Posted by: Philip Rushton | November 19, 2015

No Room In The Inn

As Advent approaches, many of us will be setting up a nativity scenes around the house.  This scene reminds us that Jesus was placed in a manger because there was no room for him in the inn.

I have been struck by the significance this scene has in light of the current conversation we are having about the refugee crisis in Syria. There is a post that has been shared around Facebook this week that reads, “if only we had a seasonally appropriate story about middle eastern people seeking refuge and being turned away!”

Indeed, if we take a closer look at the Christmas story we discover that Jesus started out his life as a refugee. In Matthew 2:13 it says, “An angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”

Reflecting on Christ’s vulnerable entrance into the world, Thomas Merton writes:

“Into this world, this demented inn, in which there is absolutely no room for him at all, Christ has come uninvited. But because he cannot be at home in it, because he is out of place in it, and yet he must be in it, his place is with those others for whom there is no room. His place is with those who do not belong, who are rejected by power because they are regarded as weak, those who are discredited, who are denied the status of persons, tortured, exterminated. With those for whom there is no room, Christ is present in this world.”

Indeed, as Jesus’ life and ministry unfolds, we discover that he does show a particular concern with those for whom there is no room. Carrying on the tradition of the Old Testament (See Deuteronomy 10:18-19), Jesus reminds us of the importance of caring for refugees when he says, “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in.”(Matthew 25:13).

While the mandate to care for the vulnerable is clear in scripture, our response to the refugee crisis is complicated by the reality of fear. We ought not to overlook or ridicule these fears. Terrorist attacks, like the one in Paris, are troubling because they remind us of our vulnerability in the West.
Jeremy Courtney is an American who is working on the front lines of the refugee crisis in Iraq. He wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post this week where he speaks honestly about his fear.[1] He writes:

“It is not right or reasonable to tell anyone, “Do not be afraid.” Terrorism is terrifying. But we should aim to not be ruled by fear. In the face of ISIS, Iran and countless other nemesis neighbors, we commit to love anyway.”

Of course, education can help quell some of our fears that might be overstated. For example, it would be wise for us to take some time to learn about the vetting process that refugees must go through. A recent report in the Economist points out that of the 750,000 refugees who were resettled in America since 9/11, only 2 have been linked to terrorist activity.[2] As someone who has gone through the U.S. immigration process I can tell you that becoming a permanent resident is not easy – and I am a Christian Canadian married to an American who had an immigration lawyer!  Those applying for refugee status go through an even more rigorous and drawn out application process than I went through!

Nevertheless, our fears need to be worked through, not ridiculed.   That is why Courtney’s perspective is important. He invites us to move beyond fear by weaving together both the call to compassion and the need for security. He writes:

“there is a third option altogether for those who live beyond dualism and exclusive forms of tribalism. With new eyes, we can take both these threads and weave a cord that achieves a security and compassion that is actually strong enough to thrive in the face of terrorism.”

Courtney says that these new eyes are re-shaped by the lens of the gospel, which helps us, “tap into the truth of the cosmos that some things are worth dying for, including going beyond the gates of security to welcome those who are fleeing terror, even if it results in facing terror ourselves.” When I consider the extreme risk he is taking to care for these refugees I am humbled by his courage.

While this conversation is important, it also runs the danger of becoming a smoke screen that blocks us from seeing the ways God is calling us to personally reach out. We can talk all day about what our country should be doing about refugees, but the bigger questions we need to wrestle with are: What am I supposed to be doing? Who do I need to make room for this Christmas? Who do I keep at arms length?

Some of us may be called to help refugees directly. We may financially support people like Jeremy Courtney who are on the front lines, lobby our political representatives, or volunteer at a refugee center. Others of us may be called to find ways to care for the homeless, or reach out to homebound folks who are lonely. Maybe the call is even closer to home. Perhaps God wants us to make room for an estranged family member this Christmas.   There is no shortage of needs in the world, and not every need is a personal call for us.   But at some level I believe Christ is asking all of us to consider whom we need to make room for this Christmas.

[1] https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/acts-of-faith/wp/2015/11/17/the-world-is-scary-as-hell-love-anyway/

[2] http://www.economist.com/news/united-states/21674694-america-should-reclaim-its-role-beacon-those-fleeing-persecution-and-war-yearning

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