Everyone who knows the Christmas story knows that Mary and Joseph traveled from Nazareth to Bethlehem (a distance of more than 75 miles) just before Jesus was born. Scripture tells us the reason why. Every male had to return to his hometown to complete the census form, and Joseph was from Bethlehem. Can you imagine trying to conduct a census of the United States using this method? Our neighborhood is full of people from other cities, states, and nations. How many of our neighbors would have to hit the road if they were required by the government to return to their hometown within thirty days? How great would be the chaos on highways and at airports and railroad stations?
Having everyone register for the census in one’s hometown makes sense only if most people never leave their ancestral home. Joseph must have been the exception. So, what exactly was he doing such a long way from home? Some scripture scholars have suggested that one of the points that Luke is making (something that people of his time would have grasped) is that Joseph, like many Jews, may have lost his ancestral land because he could not pay the heavy taxes imposed by the Romans and King Herod. Herod was building a massive Greek style city near Nazareth, and Joseph may have found work there as a construction worker (i.e. carpenter). Joseph may not have wanted to leave his home, but may have been forced to because of economic conditions.
Mary and Joseph, of course, were not the only people on the move in the Christmas scriptures. Today we hear the familiar story of the journey of the Magi, who traveled from another country to worship the newborn King. Jesus is hereby revealed as a savior not just for the people of the promise but for all people of all time. It is interesting that in some mosaics surviving from the fifth century we see that artists have already chosen to depict the three kings as being from different races and with different ethnic characteristics. Christians got the message early on that Jesus welcomed all people, even people who looked and sounded much different from “regular” people. They got the message because most of them started as outsiders too. In Jesus Christ, God made a commitment to bring together all his daughters and sons, and that becomes clear in the journey of the Magi. The word Epiphany itself means a “bursting forth” of God’s glory. It is for this reason that the Catholic Church in the United States observes National Migration Week during the week after Epiphany. It is estimated that 60 million people in today’s world are on the move. They leave their home and move for many reasons—as immigrants in search of a better life for themselves and their children, as refugees fleeing the ravages of war and religious persecution, and as victims of human trafficking exploited for the profit of others.
As different as these migrants and their circumstances may be from our own lives and situations, we are linked to them through Jesus, the light of the world who brought “Jew and Greek, slave and free” together. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Justice for Immigrants campaign is currently working to promote humane migration policies toward refugees and immigrants that reflect our Catholic values. Cardinal Cupich has issued a special appeal to all Chicago area Catholics to participate in an electronic postcard campaign to lawmakers. The postcards may be sent from Justice for Immigrants’ homepage at www.justiceforimmigrants.org. You can learn more about the Catholic Bishops work on behalf of immigrants and refugees on that website too.
There are, of course, ways to get involved locally. For example, every Friday at 7:15am people of faith gather at the Broadview Immigration Processing Center to pray for those being deported and for their families. Once a month this is an interfaith service. On the other three Fridays, the group prays the rosary. One of our parishioners is a regular and would be happy to offer a ride if someone would like to attend one of these prayer services. Our own Social Justice Committee will be exploring other opportunities for involvement in the coming months. Meanwhile, it is good to remember the journey our own ancestors made. We are a nation of immigrants, and many of the fears being expressed about today’s immigrants were exactly the same fears that people had about the massive number of Irish, German, and Italian Catholics swarming into this country in the nineteenth century: Catholics are not real Americans and do not believe in real American values. I hope we have proved them wrong.