Did you get everything you wanted for Christmas? Were there any gifts you received that you didn’t want or didn’t expect? Did you have any visitors or surprises that happened that you didn’t plan for?
One strange gift I received this year is a deep gratitude for my health. After recovering from back surgery and breaking my collar bone in 2011, I have learned a lot about my limits and facing pain. I have a new appreciation for those who live with chronic pain.
It’s only after many months that I can see there is a gift to receive — albeit a strange gift. I imagine there are times we each face unexpected changes or losses. Those moments can have important lessons to teach us or strange gifts to offer us that we didn’t ask for.
The Scriptures during Christmas-time had a lot to say about strange gifts and how a stranger can be a gift of God’s saving plan. God’s word is revealed through strange dreams and visits of angels.
The first to recognize Christ were nameless shepherds and foreigners bearing strange gifts. The prophet Isaiah spoke of visitors from many nations who would bring gifts to help rebuild the New Jerusalem. St. Paul says that God’s saving plan, which seemed strange and mysterious, became revealed in Christ; “the Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body, and co-partners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the Gospel” (Ephesians 3:6).
In Christ, strangers and foreigners are really our brothers and sisters in disguise. We just may not know it yet. How would we live if we believed it?
Christmas celebrated the hospitality of God. God welcomed us by becoming one of us. Jesus came among us as a stranger, poor, an immigrant and a refugee to help heal the world of our estrangement from one another.
The church continues this mission in our day by announcing and living this mystery of faith — “We are one Body in Christ.” Like Christ, we may have to endure being strangers — like the wise magi — willing to cross borders and humble ourselves to enter into another’s reality to share good news.
We can welcome the strangers among us as guests who bring strange, unexpected, but wonderful gifts that can enrich and revitalize us.
Immigrants bring vitality
I saw in the most recent Maryknoll Magazine an article on how new immigrants are revitalizing and enriching the church in various parts of the U.S. Latinos, Asians and African immigrants are bringing new energy and vitality. In particular, there was mention of how refugees from Burma are making their presence felt at Catholic parishes on the east side of St. Paul.
At first, their ways may seem strange to natives, but there can be many gifts to receive if we are open to the notion that we are brothers and sisters in disguise.
As we put away the Christmas decorations, the real work of Christmas must continue.
We can be like the manger, ready to welcome Christ and the gifts of strangers.
We can be like the star in the East shining bright with God’s message of being one body in Christ.
We can be like the shepherds who return to the fields of our lives and keep watch for the lost and least among us.
We can be like the wise magi willing to cross borders and become a bit strange for the sake of sharing our gifts of faith with others.
Let us practice faith in the hospitality of God, which welcomes all nations as one family in faith — one body in Christ. What a strange and wonderful gift to behold.
Deacon Mickey Friesen is director of the archdiocesan Center for Mission.