122318 Advent 4c Juggling our Hopes and Fears
Micah 5:2-5; Luke 1:39-45
As most of you know I spent yesterday participating in a Faith Caravan to Tijuana. I got mixed reviews about the idea of going: Some said it would be too dangerous; others said we couldn’t do any good by going; a few wondered how we could do this at such a busy season so close to the holidays; still others said the people didn’t deserve the help because they chose to be there; some were inspired, and a few wanted to sign up to go. It was almost the last day of Advent, a period of waiting and hoping for God to set things right in the unlikely form of a little baby. Not everyone received the child who brought an unexpected salvation. Could our response to refugees and asylum seekers in our time be a sign of our openness to God’s way of setting things right by unexpected means?
For the 150 of us who went it was a day full of information, inspiration and frustration. Whenever we leave our routine and enter new territory, we often discover that we can’t control things we’d like to control; and that leads to frustration. That’s how it went for us. After getting up at 2:30 we left late, because the truck that was going to take the humanitarian supplies didn’t show up and we had to load everything onto the buses. Then at the border they made us take all the supplies off the buses and put them through the scanner at customs. When we finally arrived at the Baptist church where there were supposed to be groups of refugees, there were only the Haitians who had been living there for years. So we divided the supplies to distribute them to four different shelters; though later about 800 asylum seekers came to receive them. Finally we went to El Barretal, the large government shelter where the largest group of asylum seekers were moved after the rains last month. There we were told that the health clinic we were going to have was going to have to happen outside rather than inside the shelter. They gave us a tour of the facility, and then the medical team set up the clinic outside and people came out for health screenings. The clergy were available for conversations with folks who were eager to tell their stories. We listened, offered blessings and learned from the people.
The tour was impactful on several fronts. To see the conditions that the people lived in was heart-breaking. To listen to their stories was mind- boggling. The families with children had a roof over their heads. Everyone else was outside. Single men and extended families set up tents in large open spaces outside the former concert hall. There are not nearly enough showers or bathrooms for all those people. We were told that they generate 3,000 lbs of trash each day, which overwhelms the sanitation system. That was all heartbreaking. But when we asked them why they left Honduras and what their plans were, the stories helped us understand why they would put up with the conditions at the shelter instead of returning to their homes. Several people showed us pictures of their children, who had been murdered by gangs and drug lords. One young man I spoke with told me that his brother had been murdered and that his own life was threatened; he had to leave his children back home with his parents. These folks were not returning to Honduras, no matter what. It’s painful to think how terrible things are in Honduras to believe that the conditions at El Barretal are better than that, or that the risk of being detained in the US is a more attractive option than returning home.
On top of that experience in Tijuana, this been a mind-boggling week to be an American. We saw the resignations of the Secretary of Defense and the top US diplomat in the fight against the Islamic state, with explicit rebukes to the President, which were echoed around the country and around the world. We are already in the third day of the shutdown of the government in a showdown about a border wall. We heard the President call for the withdrawal of troops from Syria and possibly from Afghanistan, to the chagrin of many. We saw the stock market plunge into what market watchers are calling the first bear market in ten years. We saw battles on various fronts between the courts and the administration about immigration policy. In the midst of all that, it’s more than tempting to feel fear rather than hope, and to act on those fears in unfruitful ways.
The Gospel offers us a different way to view the world. Hopefully, we come to church with a desire to get some help making sense of it all. Each night at the Posadas we heard passages from the prophet Isaiah that are read every Christmas because they put Jesus in historical perspective. The early followers of Jesus were as confounded by Jesus and all that he did as we are by the events of the past week. They searched their Scriptures for clues to understanding how Jesus of Nazareth fit into their history. Can you imagine how challenging it was for those Jewish disciples to locate Jesus in their tradition? They were expecting a Messiah, and they had well-formed opinions about what the Messiah looked like. Jesus didn’t look like what they imagined a Messiah to be; but there was something about him that they simply couldn’t let go. So when they found passages that sounded like what they were watching unfold before their very eyes, they latched onto those texts. They found passages like the one we read in Micah that says, “You, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days.” Little by little a framework emerged that explained who Jesus was.
We who are followers of Jesus in the 21st century have received the fruit of all that. While many still wonder about who Jesus really was, we have four Gospels, an entire New Testament and 2000 years of history as a launching pad for our exploration. We have carols like O little town of Bethlehem that have become part of our cultural understanding. But when we try to make sense of what’s going on around us right now, we are like those early followers of Jesus scouring our sources to put it all in perspective. And we find passages like the Magnificat that does that for us: You have mercy on those who fear you in every generation. You have shown your strength, you have scattered the proud in their conceit. You have cast down the mighty from their thrones, and have lifted up the lowly. You have filled the hungry with good things, and the rich you have sent away empty.
If that is God’s perspective on history, we at least know the direction of the way forward. We may disagree about the details of policy but we can’t wonder whose wellbeing matters most. The asylum- seekers must at least believe in the rightness of their cause; those of us who know their stories must support their struggles. Clearly a wall to keep out the lowly is going to be cast down by the God of Jesus. We must work for safety and justice for the little ones who suffer from the actions of all sides in conflicts.
And what do the scriptures say about our own struggles with fear? Luke tells the story of Mary traveling to visit her cousin Elizabeth to gain understanding, comfort and safety about what was going on in her life. Luke offers that as a model for the role that community plays in healing our fears. Play Medema song.When we can’t find release from our fears in our regular routine we need to be willing to disrupt it to seek those places that we know can heal us. Often it’s not that we don’t know those places: it’s that we’re often not willing to go out of our way to visit them.
On this last Sunday of Advent, we are almost home. Christmas is almost here. But are we ready yet to recognize and welcome the one who is coming to set things right? Do we know in our hearts who that one is – or who they are – but can’t quite gather the courage to visit them before the time comes? In life we have more than two days to continue preparing. But the message of Advent is that the time does arrive for the coming one. Our work is to get ready. I encourage you and me and everyone to get ready at every level of our lives. Even when we don’t understand why God comes in a particular way we recognize God, and want to be a part of God’s future; because the hopes and fears of all the years are met in God.