The Advent of Refugees

Arrival of Syrian refugees

I’m as much a fan of ironic situations as anyone else, but this might be too much.

In the wake of the recent heart-wrenching terrorist attacks in Paris, Beirut, and around the world, U.S. politicians are weighing in.  An alarming number of governors have already declared that they are closing their states to Syrian refugees.  Some of the Presidential candidates are adding their own two cents.  Their proposal?  To only admit Christian refugees.

Sadly, none of these reactions surprise me.  They certainly disappoint me, but they don’t surprise me.  The timing, however, is what makes these comments so difficult to stomach.

Thanksgiving, when we gather with loved ones and share our gratitude for the many blessings of the year, is just over a week away.  Advent, when we await the arrival of God-made-human among us, begins the following Sunday.  

So you’d expect this to be a time of year when Americans, and Christians in particular, have a greater awareness of how many blessings we receive, and are thereby moved to recognize our moral obligation to welcome the stranger in our midst and care for those in need, right?  Yeah, me too.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be the case among those making these proposals.

A few things here strike me as ironic:

  • Most of the politicians making these statements identify as Christian.
  • The Holy Family, who we’ll be reading about a lot at Mass during Advent, were also refugees.1
  • What we commemorate at Thanksgiving was an example of refugees being helped by people already in what is now the United States.  What’s more, these early refugees were fleeing both political and religious persecution at the hands of members of their own religion.  Sound familiar?

As we look towards Advent, we prepare to welcome Christ in our midst.  It’s ironic and a shame that we aren’t prepared to welcome God as present in our refugee sisters and brothers.

Maybe this Advent we can pray to recognize that God puts no conditions on becoming human to share in our lives.  This prayer might lead us to ask, who are we to put conditions on which humans are worthy of starting a new life in the United States?

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Cover image courtesy Flickr CC user European Commission DG ECHO, available here.

  1. For what it’s worth, they also weren’t Christian.  Lucky for them, and us, they weren’t trying to get into the U.S.

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