As we begin Advent on Sunday, Dec. 2, and as we begin to prepare ourselves for Christmas and the end of the semester, we are encouraged to become more aware of the things and people most important to us. As we begin Advent, this is a time to try to go beyond the stress of final papers and exams, the stress of buying gifts, the stress of our culture at this time.
In the Christian tradition, a story of Mary and Joseph, about the time before the first Christmas, which though short, may help us to look at ourselves and our world with fresh and open eyes. Their government added to the stress of Mary and Joseph as they prepared for the upcoming birth. They were required to travel to the home town of Joseph. If you have ever travelled with a pregnant lady, this meant it was not going to be easy and would probably require frequent rest stops.
When they arrived at Bethlehem, we learn that Joseph's family was not really living there, and there was little tourism infrastructure — no Motel 6, no Bethlehem Bed and Breakfast. A kind innkeeper, though, took pity on this weary couple, even though they were strangers, and offered them the only accommodations he had available. Though it was a stable, without many other "necessities," and no Wi-Fi, it must have seemed a blessing for Mary and Joseph in this strange land.
God's great plan to show His love for all of us came in a strange land, in a time in which he was a stranger. The small acts of kindness, of the innkeeper and others, became instruments of God's transforming love. Ordinary people treating others with care and concern became part of bringing peace to a world filed with strife and stress.
As we begin our own journey to celebrate Christmas, in our own time of stress, we can remember that sometimes the little gifts of kindness are the greatest gifts we may give and often the best gifts we will receive. Whether it means taking a little time to listen or to express some concern or even offering a simple smile and "hello" for someone who feels him or herself to be a stranger or in a strange land, these may be gifts beyond value.
In this season, in which all of us may begin to feel more and more stress, perhaps, or the rush of preparations, giving our real and personal gifts of time and energy — our gifts of ourselves — may not be as small as we may think they are normally. As we feel the deadlines and pressure of the end of the semester, our worlds become smaller, our energy is directed to what we must do. We focus on ourselves and what we need, at any given moment. Small things become big.
But it is also during this time that we might also begin to feel like a little strange — our "normal" lives and demands are different. Our own world begins to feel a little strange and we might realize that we need the small, but clearly valuable gifts, from others.
As we begin and enter into this this season, let us remind ourselves and each other, that even in our own time, we are all strangers in a strange land. We are all called to be like the innkeeper, some 2,000 years ago, to take a little of our precious time and personal resources to reach beyond ourselves, to the other, we're all called to welcome strangers. We are all strangers in need of others' kindness. In all of this, in kindnesses given and received, we share in the incredible story of our loving God, who came to us as a stranger in confused times.
A. M. D. G.
D. Highberger, S.J.
P. Stark, S.J.