At this time in history our world is going through a refugee crisis, though no one would blame you for forgetting that, since America has different complaints today. Still, I cannot help but remember it as I reflect on the season of Advent.
If you pay attention to the media you will hear the mass exodus of people from the Middle East and Africa referred to as "migrants." This is important because while all refugees are migrants, not all migrants are refugees. The word refugee is a special designation reserved for those who are fleeing the unspeakable, ungodly circumstances of their homeland for the refuge and safe haven of a new land. Officially, a refugee is defined as this:
"Owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country."
-United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR),1951 Refugee Convention
And the difference is this:
"Migrants, especially economic migrants, choose to move in order to improve the future prospects of themselves and their families. Refugees have to move if they are to save their lives or preserve their freedom. They have no protection from their own state - indeed it is often their own government that is threatening to persecute them."
-UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency
A refugee is basically one who is faced with a choice, haven or hell, and chooses haven.
All this is important to me here and now because, well, first off it should matter to me. Even as I write this from my cozy, American bedroom, stockpiled with pillows. The refugees of today should matter to all of us who have so much. We should give every bit of money and mercy that we can for their cause. But it also matters because this Advent I realize and confess that this place-- this world I live in-- is not my home.
Don't get me wrong because on one hand it is my home. I am so privileged to live here where I do, in comfort and security, surrounded by love and liberty. And I receive all that with humble thanksgiving. Still, though all of our hearts are migrant, prone to wander, choosing "to move in order to improve the future prospects of [ourselves] and [our] families," I realize that is not enough for me. My heart-- my broken heart-- knows that this place is not my home and it looks heavenward for refuge.
"All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country-- a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them."
Looking onward I cannot help but look back to the expectant birth of Jesus. Who was himself a refugee. Whose parents went to Judea for a census but stayed for Asylum.
O come O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
And then there is Mary. Dear Mary. Pregnant with both hope and fear. Jesus: the hope the world and the fear that would provoke the very infant genocide from which she would be forced to flee. Though not before she would be reduced to giving birth in a freaking barn.
|Mary Consoles Eve, art by a Sister at Our Lady Of The Mississippi Abbey|
Let us consider the waiting of this expectant mother, who chose heaven for us all, who knew more than we ever will about the miracle of Jesus' birth. Let us wait with perseverance for all that's in store for those of us who hold on to the guiding light.
May our hearts be pregnant with hope. Even though hope, like our Savior, is often born in the most undeserving of circumstances. Amen.