To get everyone in the holiday spirit during Advent, the staff of Glenmary Challenge magazine has gone back to the archives to share some of the best Christmas stories ever reported from the missions.
This week of Advent’s post comes from the Winter 1989 edition of Glenmary Challenge. In the story below, current Glenmary president Father Chet Artysiewicz, then a mission pastor, encounters a proxy for the Holy Family—a husband, wife and unborn child on a journey.
Christmas Travelers – With Child
By Father Chet Artysiewicz Glenmary Challenge, Winter 1989
For priest presiders of liturgical celebrations in a small mission parish the appreciation of the feast sometimes occurs in the afterglow. The myriad details involved in planning the worship experience, coupled with service projects to make the celebration more meaningful, can blur the ability to absorb the richness of the occasion.
My first Christmas as a priest was joyous, though a bit distracted by all those details. But in the afterglow, it happened.
I was returning from the airport Christmas night, having said farewell to Brother Mike Springer who was en route to his family. My mind was replaying the events of the day — the liturgy, the special music, the meaning of what we had gathered to celebrate: the willingness of God’s Son to become one of us, willing “to pitch His tent in our midst” (John 1:14).
Cold and darkness prevailed outside; within I was fortified by a mellow warmth — not to mention a ‘bodacious’ Christmas dinner! Traffic was light. Up ahead I strained to see: yes, under the bright lights of the rest stop stood a couple. Actually, it was a threesome for the woman was far enough along for me to detect her pregnancy despite the winter coat.
Who would be hitchhiking on Christmas?
They were very young, maybe twenty years old. Live people and conversation replaced my mental replays. Progress on their journey had been slow; they had covered only about 120 miles that day. I was struck by their simplicity as they told me they were bound for Virginia, not realizing how very far away they were. Their spirits sank as I explained that they had two more hours to go before they even left Kentucky.
I provided them with a possible solution by offering them hospitality for the night. Convinced it would only grow darker and colder, and their chances for another ride more remote, they gladly accepted my offer.
During some of the quiet of our ride, I could only smile to myself as I thought of God’s funny bone; Christmas night, and a young couple expecting their first child crossed my path. They picked a great night to be my guests. They devoured a multi-course meal, the same menu we had enjoyed to celebrate the feast. After breakfast the next morning I drove them to the highway where they resumed their journey.
Before you consign this story to the realm of “holiday fantasy,” remember that the truth is often stranger than fiction. This truly happened. In the intervening sixteen years I have never heard anything from or about them.
As home missioners we often have only a snapshot view of people’s lives, never knowing the ‘rest of the story.’ I was glad to provide a ride, a couple of meals, and some lodging for that little family. But my real joy would be to know that somewhere this Christmas, a couple in their thirties, and their fifteen-year-old, are resourcing the true meaning of the season: God’s gift to our world, His Son Jesus.