How you could meet an angel this Advent
by Scott Wright
The season of Advent is upon us, and with it we prepare for Christmas. Advent is a time of waiting and preparing, a time of stillness and surrender, a time of expectation and anticipation of the message of joy and good news to come: the birth of the Holy Child, the birth of Our Savior. It is a time of joy and hope!
Advent is the opening scene of a drama that begins with four weeks of preparation for Christmas and ends with Easter. The journey from Christmas to Easter passes through a time of passion and death, a time in history perhaps not unlike our own, full of “wars and rumors of wars,” of “famines and earthquakes.” The journey to resurrection passes through the Way of the Cross. For that reason, Advent is also a time of conversion.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Lutheran pastor who was martyred in Nazi Germany, offers us this invitation: “If we want to be part of these events, Advent and Christmas, we cannot just sit there like a theater audience and enjoy all the lovely pictures. Instead, we ourselves will be caught up in this action, this reversal of all things; we must become actors on this stage.”
He also says: “For the great and powerful in this world, there are two places that terrify them to the very depths of their souls, and which they dearly avoid: the manger and the cross of Jesus Christ.”
In the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, right across from the Columban Center, there is a beautiful sculpture of the Holy Family and the flight to Egypt. It is a striking work, as you can see the weariness and the pain in Mary and Joseph as they stop to rest on their journey. King Herod had ordered “the massacre” of all male children two years and under who lived in the vicinity of Bethlehem. Then was “fulfilled” what had been said through the prophet Jeremiah:
“A voice was heard in Ramah,
Sobbing and loud lamentation;
Rachel weeping for her children,
And she would not be consoled,
Since they were no more.”
Advent is a season that leads up to the joy of Christmas. But we often forget the drama that both precedes and follows this most joyous of holy days. Herod was an earthly ruler, jealous of the birth of such a one who was to be “the shepherd of Israel,” “a King” like no other, and he sent the Magi to find out where this child would be born. Secretly, “he sought the child to destroy him.” Warned by an angel after the birth of Jesus, the Holy Family flees with the child to Egypt.
Gospel stories have a way of illuminating our historical reality today. Where is the Holy Family to be found today? I think of Pope Francis’ recent visit to Myanmar and Bangladesh, to encounter the half a million Rohingya, Muslim refugees who were burned out of their homes by “the armies of Herod” in Myanmar in a campaign of ethnic cleansing, forcing them to flee. In his encounter with these refugees in Bangladesh, Pope Francis said an amazing thing: “The presence of God today is also called Rohingya.”
Where is the Holy Family to be found today? I think of the drama of migrant and refugee families in our own country, especially the young people in danger of losing their status under the DACA program, the so-called “Dreamers.” They came to our country as children with their parents, many fleeing violence, all of them following a star that would lead them, they hoped, to a better life, a promised land. They, too, and all refugee and migrant families are “the presence of God.”
This great Abrahamic tradition of hospitality unites us as Jews, Christians, and Muslims. We welcome the stranger because, as Dorothy Day reminds us, we might be “entertaining angels.” We welcome the stranger because we remember our immigrant roots: “For [we too] were once strangers in the land of Egypt.”
The message of Advent is a message of welcome and hospitality: “Comfort, give comfort to my people.” These are the opening words from Isaiah on the Second Sunday in Advent: “Give comfort to my people.” “Prepare the way of the Lord in the desert.” “Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God!”
So let us celebrate this most holy of seasons with joy and hope. Let us prepare well and, above all, surrender to the message of Christmas. A message of “Peace and good will to all on earth,” a message of welcome and hospitality.
Truly, we are living in a time in history of “the great reversal,” when God comes to us as a little child in the migrant and refugee. Let us be caught up in this drama, this reversal of all things, and become actors on the stage at this time in history. We welcome Christ and the Holy Family by welcoming our immigrant sisters and brothers, who come to us as dreamers following the Christmas star.
Scott Wright is the Director of the Columban Center for Advocacy & Outreach.
Weekly Reflections on Justice & Columban Spirituality are written by the Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach staff, volunteers, interns, and visiting Columban Missionaries. We hope these reflections help to guide you on your own spiritual journey working toward justice, peace, and the integrity of creation.