Editor’s Note: This blog originally appeared on G92 on December 12, 2011. We are rerunning it today to remind us all of the true meaning behind Christmas and to encourage us to remember and welcome those who, like Jesus, have a migration story.
Christmas is all about a migration story. I am not referring to Santa’s Christmas Eve sleigh ride around the world—that’s travel, not migration—and it’s also not what Christmas is all about.
Even Jesus, Mary, and Joseph’s escape as refugees to Egypt just after the visit of the Magi—while certainly a formative experience in young Jesus’ life and an experience upon which we would do well to reflect upon—is not at the very center of the Christmas story.
The very core of Christmas, as I read it, is found in John 1: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” God, in the person of Jesus Christ, left the glories of heaven where he pre-existed since before time began and, as a more literal translation of the original Greek would have it, “pitched his tent among us.”
The very Creator of the universe “made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant,” and moved into a small town in the Middle East. As Lawndale Community Church pastor Wayne Gordon notes, he didn’t commute from heaven, which probably would have been more comfortable.
No—Jesus moved into the neighborhood (and, as Shane Claiborne and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove note, “it wasn’t necessarily good for property values”). I can only imagine the culture shock our Lord experienced: earth is, from what I understand, a very different place than heaven.
Christ’s celestial migration was one of downward mobility. Most migration in our world—both at present times and throughout history—has been driven by a desire for upward mobility. People, very reasonably, want a better life: adequate food, a roof over the heads, education, safety from violence for themselves and their families and opportunities to use the talents and gifts God has given them, among other things. They also sometimes have to physically relocate, even across national borders, to find these things. Christ’s migration, though, was driven by a different goal: he “came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 1:45), and that meant the radical step of relocation.
Christ came to a deeply lonely world—including, and specifically, to those most marginalized and vulnerable, to immigrants, orphans, and widows—and offered his presence. The Incarnation means that God is with us, and that, as Dorothy Day once wrote, “we are not alone anymore.” In fact, through Christ, the Bible teaches that the fatherless is adopted into a divine family (Galatians 4:4-7), the undocumented immigrant is naturalized into a celestial Kingdom (Ephesians 2:11-22), and the widow is embraced as Christ’s Bride, the Church (Isaiah 54:4-6, Revelation 21:1-9).
Two millennia later, most who claim membership in that Church, at least within the United States, celebrate Christ’s incarnation by buying extravagant gifts for our loved ones and eating unhealthy amounts of food; hopefully we also take some time to somberly and hopefully reflect upon the miracle of the Incarnation. A few, though (such as my friends at the Christian Community Development Association), go further, seeking to follow our Lord’s example by moving into the forgotten places of our world, to the ghettoes, the barrios, and the slums that many of us—or our ancestors—escaped. Unlike Jesus, they cannot save anyone (Jesus still does that, and our messiah complexes are not useful to him), but they can offer the gift of presence, telling hurting and marginalized people that they are not alone.
Perhaps, this Christmas, God is calling you to think about migrating—picking up and relocating—to one of those places, whether within the U.S. or abroad. When you do so, the challenges of poverty, undocumented immigrants, bed bug infestations, and other “issues” that most of us assess from a distance (if we think of them at all) become, to some degree, your challenges. When you relocate (or for some, return to the marginalized community that you worked hard to get out of, or decide to stay there even when you could leave), as Wayne Gordon says, “‘you, them, and theirs’ become ‘we, us, and ours.’”
That may seem like a crazy and impractical idea, and I know that few are actually likely to do it; it may not be the call God has on your life at this time. Don’t simply dismiss the idea because it is radical, though: as Henri Nouwen writes, “the way of Jesus is radically different. It is the way not of upward mobility but of downward mobility. It is going to the bottom, staying behind the sets, and choosing the last place! Why is the way of Jesus worth choosing? Because it is the way to the Kingdom, the way Jesus took, and the way that brings everlasting life.”
Matthew Soerens is the co-author of Welcoming the Stranger: Justice, Compassion & Truth in the Immigration Debate (InterVarsity Press, 2009) and the US Church Training Specialist at World Relief.
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