NOTE: All reflections throughout the Advent and Christmas season will be available on our homepage and then archived on our Advent-Christmas 2022 webpage.
The reflection below is from Arturo Chavez from the 2006 Advent reflection booklet, Awakening the Prophet Within: Reflections for Advent 2006.
by Dr. Arturo Chavez
She gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the place where travelers lodged. (Lk 2:7)
In the birth of Jesus, God becomes one with us — Emmanuel — among us and within us. The mystery of the incarnation is not meant to baffle us; rather, for those of us who reflect on it, this mystery is an endless source of profound lessons in faith. They come as opportunities to recognize Emmanuel and welcome this humble and loving God who has many faces and yet remains hidden.
I remember a few years ago receiving a phone call from Emmanuel. She was desperate. Three police cars were at her tiny barrio home with a warrant to arrest her for welfare fraud. Her grandchildren watched as police handcuffed, humiliated, and abruptly hauled away (as if she were a dangerous felon) the only stable person in their lives. I told her I would do what I could. I waited for hours until I could post bond, and at four in the morning, they finally released her from jail.
Emmanuel and I had coffee on Frio Street and through her tears of embarrassment, she confessed her son. She didn’t report what she earned from cleaning offices because she was afraid that she would no longer get the ninety dollars in aid and food stamps she needed to raise her three grandchildren. She certainly didn’t want to steal from anyone, but the welfare assistance just wasn’t enough to make ends meet. She now had to pay back $3,000, a small fortune, to clear the matter up and avoid deportation.
You see, Emmanuel is not a citizen of this country. As I held her hands, weather by age and hard work, I could feel tense desperation eating away at her. I prayer for peace.
I met Emmanuel again recently. This time he prayed with me at a Mass at a mutual friend’s house. He gets around in a wheelchair. My friend shared his painful story with me. As Emmanuel was escaping the poverty and violence of his homeland, he had a terrible accident. He leapt off the train he was hiding in to avoid being caught by the INS (Immigration and Naturalization Service), but his feet got caught in the rails and were severed. He lay for hours bleeding before anyone found him.
My friend has been caring for Emmanuel for almost a year now. He is depressed and very ashamed of being seen in a wheelchair. I prayed and wished I could do something. Emmanuel smiled at me during the sign of peace as he shook my hand and said, “Paz está contigo, hermano.”
Peace is with me? His blessing unsettles me still. I struggle to make sense of suffering, to believe the impossible, to love even in the face of so much hatred. I reach out to grasp the gift of peace. However, it is an elusive gift that gives no easy answers. It is a peace that is not free of struggle and conflict. It is a gift that at times is more a burden, and yet, it is still a gift.
Through the mystery of the Incarnation, God is alive and in our midst. We are not left alone to fend for ourselves. God’s gift of presence in our world, however broken and disguised, gives us the courage and power to hope. This hope opens our eyes beyond what is obvious and gives us vision. The gift of peace is the gift of being able to see how things really are and how they can be.
I see Emmanuel constantly, disrupting my life with his gift of peace. Mostly, I look the other way. But there are times when I just cannot resist his invitation to welcome him … to invite him in and eat with him. There are times when I am at peace.
On this day, where is Emmanuel? Where does Emmanuel go when there is no room?
How do you respond when you see Emmanuel?
>> For more Advent resources and reflections, click here.