Monday, December 3, 2018

Advent Reflections: The Least of These

Here (and There) in Spirit · Post Advent Reflections: The Least of These Posting as Adrian
Jose y Maria, Everett Patterson.
Yesterday, I came across the story of a church in the Netherlands that has been holding a service nonstop for a month.

Are they trying to make it into the Guinness Book of World Records for the longest church service? Nope. It’s a spiritual filibuster.

An Armenian family that secured conditional asylum in the Netherlands in 2010 has had its request for full political asylum denied and is now at risk of being deported. It appears that sending them home would create a dangerous situation for the family, which had received death threats over the husband and father’s political activism. What type of activism he was engaging in isn’t altogether clear, but Armenia had been under the grip of an authoritarian government for most of the past two decades. If he was speaking truth to power, we can guess that he was being unjustly persecuted, just as all who speak truth to power have always been, from Christ himself on down through the ages.

Bethel Church in the Hague welcomed the family inside its walls back in late October, and more than 450 faith leaders from across the Netherlands have lent a hand since then to keep the service going. By law, immigration officials aren’t allowed to enter a place of worship while a religious service is in session. So as long as the service continues, the family is safe. The church says its goal is to buy time for the family until a humane solution can be agreed upon.

“We want to love God and our neighbor,” says Theo Hettema, chairman of the General Council of Protestant Ministers in the Netherlands. “And we thought this was a clear opportunity to put the love for our neighbor into reality.”

How refreshing to hear of a church actively helping rather than condemning, welcoming in rather than pushing out, living out the words of Christ rather than making excuses for why they don’t apply.

The parallels to other contemporary world events is all too clear. For example, when American Christians see migrants coming to our southern border, far too many take a stance that’s indifferent or hostile.

“Let them come back legally.”

“They shouldn’t put their kids at risk.”

“They just want to steal our jobs and live off our system.”

“They’re criminals.”

“They’re animals.”

These words are quite simply at odds with the words of Jesus, who said things like this:

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.”

“Do unto others as you would want them to do unto you.”

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets.”

“I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”

“Whatsoever you do for the least of these my brethren, you do for me.”

Indeed, the lesson of the parable of the Good Samaritan was that our neighbor is anyone in need, regardless of standing, nationality, religion, or anything else. 

We might say we need to take care of our own first, but it doesn’t have to be an either-or. 

We might ask which of us will take these migrant families in, but that’s the same argument pro-choicers use against pro-lifers – “If you force people to have babies, are you going to adopt them?” – and it rings just as hollow. 

We don’t have to do everything, but we can all do something. Turning our backs on those in need, especially when many of them have ended up at our borders as a result of our own foreign policy, is cruel, inhumane, and most certainly anti-Christian.

The Old Testament is rife with admonitions to the Israelites to not mistreat the foreigners in their midst, for they were once foreigners in Egypt. In Jeremiah, God is even more explicit: “I will be merciful only if you cease your evil thoughts and deeds and treat each other with justice; only if you do not oppress the alien, the orphan, and the widow; only if you cease murdering; only if you do not seek out other gods to your own harm. Then I will allow you to stay in this land that I gave to your ancestors forever.”

And the sin of Sodom? Not sodomy. Ezekiel 16:49 sets the record straight. “Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed, and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.”

In short, the God of the Bible really doesn’t mince words regarding where he stands on treating those in need, including foreigners. That’s because need knows no borders. Only when nationalism trumps allegiance to the Gospels could we even think of denying help to those who need it simply because they fall outside an invisible borderline.

Why is this relevant to Advent? Because if Mary and Joseph were traveling today, they could very well be a poor couple denied accommodations for any specious reason – maybe because they were brown, maybe because they looked like trouble, maybe because they could be criminals. If that seems far-fetched, consider that this is essentially what we’re telling the migrants at our borders. There’s no room for you here. You’re not our problem. Go somewhere else.

It’s also relevant to Advent because of how Mary and Joseph eventually had to flee their homeland for the safety of their child. The parallels to today are glaringly obvious.

So until we can see the faces of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus in those at our doorstep, we have failed to care for the least of these. That’s a lesson we all need to take to heart if, like Mary, we wish to birth Christ and his Good News into the world. 

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