Advent generally is a time of waiting for a noble guest. However, with the coming of Jesus, advent points to a time of waiting for a man of the cross, a Palestinian Jew from the periphery of society. Paradoxically, it is interesting to me to watch the immigration debate in this country happening even in this season. Christians in their debate easily remove Jesus from the discussion.
As a recent immigrant to the U.S., I have come to embrace the whole “meaning” of what people perceive foreigners to be, which include labels like: terrorists, drug dealers, taking advantage of the social welfare system, and even the bad “hombres.” I, alongside other migrants and refugees, Christians and non-Christians alike, struggle to find positive images of what it means to be foreigners, especially those of us who come from the continent of Africa, the Middle East, Asia, and Latin America. Western European immigrants to the US are often viewed positively, if they are not of Asian or North African origins. In our search for positive portrayers of migrants and refugees we look to the biblical stories, where Jesus Christ is a refugee in every possible sense.
The call to welcoming the stranger is rooted in the biblical texts since the beginning of creation. From the biblical narratives it can be inferred that Jesus experiences migration in twofold: First, Jesus leaves heaven to come down and live among other humans for the salvation of humanity. Second, as a child, Jesus is taken to a new country by his parents, because his life was in danger at the brutality of Herod. The former migration experience depicts a journey from a peaceful and glorious place to a troubled and distressful environment, while the latter goes from a dangerous setting to a nonviolent situation (Egypt). Therefore, Jesus is a migrant par excellence. It is important to note that Jesus’ migration story brings both the negative and the positive realities together. It is a story in tension. Waiting for Jesus invites us to live in tension with reality. Tension of being a peace-filled and love-filled people in the age when hate and violence are normalized by those living in the center of society.
God’s stories become tangible and clearer when we encounter refugees and migrants. God speaks to us in profound ways when refugees’ stories cause us to live in tension with our own stories. These conflicting stories invite us to a deepen our understanding of humanity. At the intersection of our conflicting stories is where our waiting comes to an end, God embraces us through grace and love.
In the waiting, those living in the periphery wait for the one who is already sustaining them. They wait for the one who is the embodiment of their life story through his own experience as a refugee in Egypt. Strangers’ reflection on their experience of carrying the label “bad hombres” points them to Jesus’ own experience as refugee.
I wonder how Christians in the U.S. wait for the Christ-refugee, a Messiah who is both a refugee physically in the hurried voyage to Egypt and metaphorically in the incarnation of God from heaven to this earth. Are we waiting for a noble emperor guest or we are waiting for the humble Palestinian Jew from the periphery? This Advent, I invite you to experience the waiting through the lens and realities of the refugees and the migrants among you. What is it that they find meaningful in their waiting as they wait for the one who identifies with them? How can you humbly enter the story, acknowledging the complexity of it?
The Rev. Kalaba Chali is a Zambian by nationality, Congolese by culture, and Zimbabwe-American by education. His calling led him to Africa University, in Zimbabwe for his first theological degree and then at Perkins School of Theology where he graduated with an MTS in 2007. Rev. Chali is an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church, and currently serves as the Mercy and Justice Coordinator for the Great Plains Conference (Kansas & Nebraska). Rev. Chali has served churches in Dallas, TX and St. Louis, Missouri. Rev. Chali is married to Rev. Jill Sander-Chali. They have a daughter named Mapalo (which means blessings from Zambian language, Bema).