It was a sobering conversation. There in the colonia classroom surrounded by Solidaridad students. Nearly every one of them named a relative, perhaps even a parent, or someone else they know who has made the journey northbound. Some of the stories candidly closed with a semblance of Moses at the end of Deuteronomy—said person dying before ever crossing into the Promised Land. At least one of those present had considered for herself leaving Juticalpa to search out the, albeit empty, dream that so many still wish to embrace. Seated in a loosely-shaped circle, with over a dozen middle and high school students, we told them: stay, don’t go. It wasn’t the rhetoric we in the U.S. have recently sought to plaster in the minds of foreigners: there’s no room for you in here. Rather, our words in that time and place had to be carefully chosen and meticulously translated, so that the right message might be heard. With grimaced faces and torn hearts, we hoped that the tough message would be received for what it was: a loving warning. Telling a bunch of teenagers (no matter their context or culture) NO, NO, NO, just wouldn’t suffice. They needed to understand why these gringos from afar were so passionate about the topic at hand. It may be hard to believe, but you’re actually safer here at home than anywhere along the pathway or within the States. Even if you make it past the border—and that’s a BIG IF—there’s still no guarantee that you will find work, good paying, worthwhile work. The perceived land of flowing milk and honey is not all as it’s portrayed to be, for some it’s actually spoiled and crystalized beyond consumption. It’s not that we, sitting here with you, don’t want you there. Really your wellbeing matters more than anything else. Words that so many generations have clung to as a radiant beacon of hope for the rest of the world: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me” (Emma Lazarus’ New Colossus), are being called to question amidst actions and policies right now that speak quite differently. To gloss over this current reality would be the same as personally leading these kids into harm’s way.
As we draw ever near in our Advent waiting and watching to that Christmas narrative we all know so well—the baby Jesus born in a barn, surrounded by a bunch of tamed cute and cuddly animals (or so we fantasize)—a parallel between there and then to here and now is striking. Surely I’m not the only one seeing this! We gloss right over the clause immediately following the birth of the Christ child—because there was no place for them in the inn (2:7b)—romanticizing it like Bethlehem was busy that weekend with a conference and all of the local hotels just so happened to be full. Ah shucks. Every other mile down Caesar Lane another neon sign glowing bright red: No Vacancy. Well, silly Joseph should’ve planned accordingly, perhaps checking on Expedia, Kayak, or Trip Advisor before making the trip with no lodging set. How careless of a stepfather! Dang shame that little Savior boy had to enter into the world in a manger, but at least the nativity looks so precious up on my mantle—could’ve been much worse. We’ve commercialized the image of Christmas that we bury the unfortunate truth behind it under bright smiles, twinkling stars, and soft figurines—redefining the story from a beautiful tragedy to instead resemble a jolly Disney fairytale. There was no room for them, not because the local Super 8 was all booked up, but on account of a “we don’t serve your kind here!” A pregnant unwed teenager and her confused boyfriend, not from the area, probably broke and not able to afford much if anything, coming in and looking for a place to give birth. Hmm, I don’t think so. If you must, take that around back where it can be hidden away and won’t offend the paying patrons. No place for the holy family meant quite literally “there’s no room for you in(n) here!” Instead of warm hospitality, they found themselves met with cold disregard. A damp and drafty shanty for the animals—not the safest or most sterile—would have to suffice for the setting in which the Son of the Most High would enter into the world. Nothing says we don’t want you here quite like being pushed out to a foul and filthy barn to give birth to your firstborn child.
Well, there’s always a need for inn-keepers. Or at least that’s what we on the inside—policing who all can enter, stay, leave, and how—like to think. Our united national history seems to be just one episode after another of determining and discussing who’s in, who’s out, and why the distinction is necessary. If we’re honest about it all, fear is always the driving force behind such separation. We fear losing our jobs, land, practices, wealth, etc. to someone else. We fear change to the system that supports us in particular, and thus losing our control over it all. We fear our thoughts, beliefs, and way of life becoming contaminated, diluted, looking even slightly different than how we’ve worked so diligently to fabricate them. We fear having to look up beyond ourselves and take into consideration the needs of our neighbor who is unlike us in any way. The voice of there is no room in here for you is ultimately that of fear speaking in and through us. Fear segregates one ethnicity away from one water fountain or restroom to another lesser option. Fear inters a particular group into camps to be monitored amidst uncertainty. Fear bans the entrance of certain foreigners based solely upon the misconception of their home country. Fear locks borders and looks upon asylum as a devious loophole. When we function by fear, we act with anxiety. And yet, in spite of our continual fear, this is the very setting in which God chooses to enter into the world. Unwelcome while still unborn, pushed to the margins, made to dwell immediately among the unclean and unsightly. In all the mystery of that holy moment, it’s still a wonder that we pursue to keep others (who themselves resemble the Christ child more than we Anglos) at bay and away. There’s no room for you in(n) here! The narrative of our words and policies rival that of the story we so long to hear of when Love came down. Are we really so blind, or just bullheaded?! When we turn a family away at the border, we ultimately turn a blind eye on the holy family desperately in need of a place to stay, rest, and refuge. There is, indeed, room for you in(n) here. Welcoming you with open arms and hearts does not weaken but rather strengthens us as a whole. The stranger claimed neighbor is truly Christ in our presence. Have we made room for Jesus in our decorations, and yet not in our hearts, minds, and communities? What does it say of us when we hear the birth of Jesus, but still press for more and more barriers between us and our neighbors? Can we really listen with faith for God’s Word made flesh among us while we react with fear to anyone who doesn’t mirror ourselves? Hope is standing at the wall. Promise is waiting in a tent along the other side of a checkpoint. Grace longs to be received for more than just cheap labor. Love is eager to be born. Is there any room for them in(n) here? I believe so.
– Pastor Andrew