Editor’s note: Executive Director Elizabeth Hughes uses imaginative prayer to reflect upon the Nativity and shares her experience of modern nativities along the border between Mexico and the United States.
Christmas Eve. Mary and Joseph are traveling to Jerusalem for the census. A grumpy innkeeper harshly asserts that there is no room at the inn, so the soon-to-be-parents shelter alone in a quiet, vacant space apart from the inn. Jesus is born into a silent night, surrounded only by his parents, a few wandering shepherds, and the animals in the manger. This is the Christmas image that has flooded my imagination for most of my life.
What if that Holy Night were a different reality? What if Mary and Joseph were greeted by a compassionate innkeeper who explained that there was no room at the inn because hordes of people were traveling for the census? The innkeeper made room for the overflow in the nearby manger and invited the soon-to-be-parents to join the crowds. Mary, Joseph, and dozens of others spent the night outside. Here, Jesus was born, as a diverse group of travelers gathered together to help the young parents through the birth, witnessing a sacred moment that nobody fully understood and providing dozens of impromptu godparents by their very presence.
As I write this, I am in Elfrida, Arizona at the invitation of the OFM Franciscan Friars of Santa Barbara Province who minister on the southwest border. Earlier this week, we gathered to plant a cross to commemorate the life of Ronald Joaquin Mazariegos, a migrant who died in January 2019 while en route to the United States. This cross is the second planted in Ronald’s honor; when his remains were first discovered, local organizations were unable to identify him. We gathered for an hour-long blessing, combining Catholic and indigenous traditions, in which we lifted up our prayers for Ronald, his family, and all migrants making this perilous journey. The next day, our group of Franciscan friars, sisters, and friends hiked 50 minutes into the desert and left 10 jugs of water with notes of support for the migrants who would be passing through.
Yesterday, we gathered at a refugee shelter in Sonoyta, Mexico which shelters dozens of individuals awaiting asylum at the border and provides exterior tents to protect even more. In a cold concrete room with over 20 beds, we met a 3-week old baby girl who – like our Savior – was born to migrant parents, as her family fled dangers in southern Mexico. The compassionate “innkeeper” joyfully tells us, “She has many godparents here in the shelter,” and generously invites us to hold the infant girl, expressing our love, support, and solidarity. Her birth was another Holy Night, perhaps not to dissimilar to the night when weary travelers welcomed the infant Jesus to the world.
Gathering is a sacred act. I’d like to imagine that it may even be reliving the first Christmas. When we gather, our joined presence creates a space of holiness in the midst of our powerlessness. Our powerlessness opens us to receive our God in the way in which God presents God’s self in that moment: as our Savior born to migrant parents over 2000 years ago; as the courage exemplified by Ronald’s brave journey through the desert; as the gift of an infant child in a cold, migrant shelter awaiting asylum to the United States and embraced by dozens of godparents. In gathering, in community, and often in a place of powerlessness, God is here with us, loving us, calling us to love one another, and inviting us to recognize the Holy Nights in our midst.
Question for Reflection: On this final night of Advent, where is God revealing God’s presence to you?