(This is a reprise of my 2012 Advent series – enjoy!)
[Suggestion: why not listen to this song playing whilst reading the post?]
The Internet tells me that, in December 2012, there were almost 400,000 Haitians still homeless after the 2010 earthquake, living out their days in hastily-erected camps, inhabiting flimsy tents. They have no home, no secure place.
Others in this world drift though, forced out, displaced, with no piece of earth they can call their own, nowhere to stand and settle. Today, there are an estimated 3.5 million Syrian refugees.
Such was the case for God, when he dwelt on earth. The Son of Man had nowhere to lay his head. He identified with those who were poor and passing through. Even at his birth he was born in a manger, perhaps in a shed, perhaps outside, far from home.
I picture the scene of people everywhere, crowds, dusty roads, donkeys, rolled-up make-shift bags. People travelling, jostling, talking, sharing food, grumbling at the unnecessary bureaucracy. I imagine Mary with the pressure of the double deadline – the deadline of needing to be in a different place for the census, and the impending deadline of her baby being born. I imagine Mary as she sat on the donkey, focusing on a fixed point ahead of her, the cramps increasing in intensity, trying to breathe through the pain.
I think of Joseph’s anxiety as he pushed through the crowds, trying to negotiate with officials and friends. (I wonder why it was they had no relatives to offer them housing, in Joseph’s family’s home town. Had Joseph’s family disowned Mary, perhaps, for being pregnant? I don’t know.) I imagine Mary close to tears from pain and the not-knowing, the dismay at looking at the dirty animal trough, the acceptance that this would have to be it, the hoping and praying that it would be okay, that the baby would be okay.
I think of Mary and I think of the world’s refugees. I imagine their longing to be at home, not to be in this in-between limbo. I imagine their desire for the long journey to be over, to be settled and relaxed.
We too are refugees. We travel and pass through this world, but it is not our home (1 Pet 1). Even our bodies, they are not permanent, they are our temporary, make-shift accommodation (2 Cor 5).
Sometimes it is not the pain of this world that most strikes us – more, the unsettledness of it all. We do not feel like we really belong. We feel that we were made for more than this 9-5 drudgery, the banal and the wearying chores. We were made for more than early mornings, family rows, traffic jams, paper-pushing, watching X Factor, eating takeaways. We sometimes long for brighter days, but we don’t know what they would look like.
And here’s the truth: our spiritual ancestors were tentmakers, wanderers in wilderness; our saviour was a homeless drifter, born in an emergency shelter. And we too are drifting through this world, as refugees, strangers.
We do not belong. We are not home yet.
O Come, O Come Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
Emmanuel will come to thee, O Israel.
Advent means ‘coming’. For ages I really didn’t understand Advent. Then a few years ago, a preacher explained that traditionally Advent preaching would focus not on the incarnation but on the return of Jesus; not on his first coming but his second coming. It was meant to be a penitential season, a time to pause and reflect.
I want to reflect that double perspective in these four weeks before Christmas – simultaneously meditating on Christ’s first coming and second coming.
Over to you:
- Can you relate to feeling like you don’t belong in this world, the unsettledness of it all?