In December and this season of advent, I find myself thinking about movement and belonging more than ever.
When we think of Christmas, the most common images are of a calm stable, a manger with a silently sleeping babe, two doting parents, and peaceful onlookers. A fixed image. Solidified. Still.
Yet, advent is full of movement! It is the time when we await the crossing of a spiritual being over the border of physical embodiment. A being whose crossing entails the painful and bloody passage from womb to world, ominous greetings by foreign strangers who have traversed ‘field and fountain, moor and mountain’ to be present, and a perilous flight into unknown lands seeking refuge from oppression and certain death.
However, our world prefers the single image of a static moment.
Mary cried out in agony as she pushed Jesus from the safety of her womb into the world; the wise men (and, likely, women) faced xenophobia and government interrogation as they came to bear witness; and after his birth Jesus’ family fled into the Egyptian wilderness after Herod’s violent decree.
Those are just some of the border crossings of advent – miraculous transformations and terrifying transitions that we so easily forget or glance over, preferring the fixed image of a babe in a manger. An image that doesn’t challenge our stable comfort.
But when we look closer during advent we see that Jesus, from before he was even born, was a migrant and refugee – homeless, and couch-hopping. It is in times like this when I find it so clear that we worship a God-in-motion. Yet we still fabricate our world with an intention of fixity. We invent borders and build walls, enact immigration and zoning laws, decide peoples’ fates based off their rental history or the number of jobs on a resume. We try to pin people down, to confine and define them, when our faith shows us time and time again, that no one can live like that and nor should they.
Last year on December 18th Tochan and other migrant rights organizations gathered to celebrate International Day of the Migrant, attending conferences for the migrants to share their experiences, exploring the city together, and sharing a special meal. Together we bore witness to stories of terrible violence, abuse, danger, and still, somehow, hope. I was confronted, again, with the harsh realities of violence both physical and institutional in the journey. In this world we penalize movement that doesn’t match up with standards and patterns of upper class luxury. Our world confines people to continents, nations, cities, even specific neighborhoods where they won’t burden anyone, regardless of what their life is like or what their wandering heart desires.
Yet we worship a God in motion.
On the same day, December 18th, this year I will attend the Homeless Memorial March here in Minneapolis as part of my work as a St. Joseph Worker with Catholic Charities. This annual event remembers and commemorates the lives of individuals experiencing homelessness who have died in the last year, many of whom passed from entirely preventable causes. Again, we live in and contribute to a world that ignores and denigrates people who are not stable enough, who don’t have a home or rental history, whose minds change more often than their clothes. As we march and remember those we’ve lost, I will be thinking of our God-in-motion yet again and wondering why we keep trying to negate that Divine itch to move and change and still belong.
God has never been still. The Divine cannot be defined, controlled or contained, and neither can the Divine in us. Our very nature, that divine spark of our being, directly opposes any social order dependent on borders, fixities, stability, and regimentation. We were not meant to force black-and-white on a world so full of color! Let us create a world that embraces wanderers and vagabonds, migrants and homeless, couch-hoppers and fence-jumpers. Maybe then we will come to know the God-in-motion within ourselves and our neighbors.