From the Farthest Parts of the Earth
Behold, I will bring them from the north country, and gather them from the farthest parts of the earth, among them the blind and the lame, the woman with child and her who is in great travail, together. – Jeremiah 31:8
Perhaps as in your congregation, our church is often filled at this time of year with great processionals of small children, dressed as angels, shepherds, and magi, all making their way to Bethlehem’s stable. Sometimes our procession has a contemporary, northern New Mexico feel—Maria y Jose, instead of Mary and Joseph; day laborers instead of shepherds; Los Alamos scientists rather than Middle Eastern magi. Like the original Christmas characters, this unlikely cast of laborers and scientists all rub shoulders to gather around the light of the new child.
Since the scene involves small children, it can’t help but tug on our heartstrings. But each year, it can also open our hearts to see the wider world assembled around that new life.
The prophet Jeremiah envisioned an equally motley gathering. “From the ends of the earth,” he proclaimed, “God will gather the remnant of the people.” The blind, the lame, the pregnant, “a great company.” They came with weeping, but God would turn their mourning into joy. “I will comfort them,” God promised, “and give them gladness for sorrow.”
Jeremiah’s vision of God’s great company of the sorrow-laden may be too adult for our usual children’s processionals. Yet we grown-ups see such processions every day with the news of refugees from as far afield as Syria and Central America. Like the people of Jeremiah’s time and the shepherds and magi of Jesus’ time, they come seeking new life and hope. In Jeremiah’s time and in Jesus’ time, God promised that such hard journeys would lead to “radiant goodness” and “great joy.” What do we promise those on similar journeys, who also yearn for new life and hope, in our time?
From north to south, from coast to coast, in the nearest and farthest parts of the earth, O God, people are seeking hope. Even as we celebrate your arrival, make us ready to welcome wanderers and refugees too.
Talitha Arnold is Senior Minister of the United Church of Santa Fe (UCC), Santa Fe, New Mexico. She is the author of Mark Part 1 and Mark Part 2 of the Listen Up! Bible Study series and Worship for Vital Congregations.