Dr John Mohan Razu
We are in advent awaiting Christ’s event. The following verse sheds light: “And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn” (like 2:7). A word prominently figures in this verse is ‘inn’, which means a lodge that provides accommodation, food etc. for a night. Since there was no place, Joseph and Mary were given an alternate place – a manger. Interesting, the attributes King, Messiah and Lord being used to Jesus Christ hardly matches the place where he was born. It is not antithetical, but a total reversal of expectations.
It is indeed radical that tilted the anticipation of the those who thought something ‘extraordinary’ would happen and in their wisdom believed that their expected messiah would be born in pomp and glory. Contrary to their anticipation and expectation, the Messiah, the King of Peace and the Light of the World was born in a manger – a box that contains the food for animals. A major shift that shows the limitations of humans which fails to match up with God’s ways of dealing, handling and intervening in the affairs that concerns humanity.
Advent is thus the culmination of Jesus Christ coming into the world of humans and be part of us that shows the love of God sending His Only Son to us. The essence and meaning of Christ’s event keep changing every year as Nativity offers new vision and vistas to us. Christ’s event is interpreted in a variety of perspectives, however, there is a need and an urgency to integrate the crucial issues to Christ’s event – 2022. The world we live is compounded with numerous problems. Out of which, one of the most pressing problems are the migrants and refugees face.
When people are forced for varied reasons within or between nations to leave their homes, they leave behind, their homes, relatives, kith and kin and almost everything. They take the most different routes that runs to hundreds and thousands of kilometers to reach the destination – by land, sea and foot .The ways with which they travel by different modes are so horrendous. Packed boats without any protection on rough seas; refrigerated containers taking goods from one country to another; by foot in hundreds and thousands of kilometers crossing difficult mountain terrains. Many hardly reach their desired destinations.
The irony is prior to reaching and realizing their dreams many die, some go behind the bars, others deported and those who reached are taken by the coastal guards or security service personnel and thus end up in refugee camps. The war that Russia waged against Ukraine is a classic example where we see the influx of Ukrainian refugees and migrants in hundreds, thousands and millions fleeing via diverse modes to neighbouring countries and far beyond.
There is no coincidence between Caesar Augustus decree and the prophesy written seven centuries earlier foretelling that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. Caesar Agustus issued a decree that registration be carried out in the land of birth and so people had to travel to their town of origin they belonged and the context in which we live now. In order to comply with the decree, Joseph travelled from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth into Judea, to David’s city called Bethlehem because he was a member of the house and family of David. To prove his citizenship and identity Joseph had to take along with him Mary, who was pregnant.
Since it was early autumn, there were intermittent rains. The journey was uphill. They had to climb an altitude of 2500 feet – a climb that was arduous, a trek which would take several days. Since Mary’s condition was such that, it would take some more days. Mary on a donkey, while Joseph was leading the way on foot started the journey. She was exhausted as the journey was tedious. A phrase used as she was “heavy with child” (Luke 2:5) does answer the difficulty she was encountering. As they passed fields, the farmers looked up leaving their agricultural activities, wondering why a woman in such advanced pregnancy would go on a journey that raises a question: what would have been the reasons that prompted Mary to walk?
Situation then and now in terms of citizenship registration, domicile proof, identity and movement of people from one place to another by foot remains almost the same. Not finding an inn, Mary and Joseph stayed in a manger, a sort of storage place where food for the animals is kept. People in hundreds and thousands from two-third world leave their domiciles to another state within a country (internal migration) or leave their country of birth to another country for livelihood or to escape religio-political persecutions or want of economic betterment. Out of desperation, they venture taking all sorts of risks by travelling on tight air-conditioned containers, cramped boats in rough-sea and on-foot crossing borders.
Except a few, many die before realizing their dreams as boats they travel capsizes due to overcrowding or rough seas; die of suffocation travelling long hours in the watertight containers; detained by border police while crossing borders. Building walls, strengthening coast guards and border patrolling police, legislating punitive laws to curb migrants and refugees and floating anti-migrant and refugee political ideologies, narratives and rhetoric tantamount to the ideology of protectionism and populism. The world we live is increasingly becoming closed, parochial, chauvinistic, sectarian and partisan to migrants and refugees.
It is advent – which reminds us that Joseph and Mary had to find shelter to give birth; had to flee from the draconian decree that the King had passed and from the murderous rage of the King. If this is the case, then Jesus the Christ, we adore as our Lord and King was also a refugee and an immigrant. After his birth fearing the rage of King Herod, Jesus, Mary and Joseph had to move out of their homeland in Judea and thus fled to Egypt. Jesus right from his birth had to move from place to place as a refugee and an immigrant. As we are in advent, Jesus calls us to accept with open arms the refugees and migrants who are in our midst. Jesus coming to us to realize and recognize that all of us in one way or other are refugees and migrants.
Let us not think and claim that we are the ‘original inhabitants’ or ‘native people’ and consider others as ‘aliens’ Advent is once again a reminder and recapitulation that God coming to earth needs to be recaptured not only in one way, but in many ways – seeing Jesus in these faces vis-à-vis refugees and migrants. When we welcome refugees and migrants, we are with open arms welcoming the presence of God with us. When we welcome strangers, we are doing for Christ as He asked us to do so. Let this advent illumine new light into the world so that everyone finds quality of life said in John 10:10b that “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”