Advent Riffs: Third Sunday, Repent and Act

Advent candles, Third Sunday

Advent candles, Third Sunday, photo by Melly95, used under Creative Commons license

This Sunday brings us powerful words from John the Baptist.

“Bear fruits worthy of repentance.”

We are not to sit stewing over sins, but to repent and to act, to bear fruits worthy of repentance.

And the crowds ask him: How? What can we do? We are here in the desert, with you.

He tells them:

“Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.”

Anyone who has none. Anyone who does not have enough food, does not have a coat, does not have a shelter against the storm.

Jakelin Caal.jpgAnyone who has none. Surely that includes the desperate migrants at our southern border. Jakelin Caal was seven years old when she died after crossing the border on December 6. She walked from Guatemala with her father and a hundred other people, desperate families seeking life and hope and safety. Instead, she died in the custody of the U.S. Border Patrol, dehydrated and in shock after the journey.

People ask what kind of father brings his child on such a journey. Warsan Shire has an answer. She is a poet, another kind of prophet. John the Baptist left home and went to the desert to preach. Warsan Shire was born in exile, and grew up far from the country that once was home to her parents. One of her most powerful poems is titled “Home.” That poem explains:

“you have to understand,
that no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land
no one burns their palms
under trains
beneath carriages
no one spends days and nights in the stomach of a truck
feeding on newspaper unless the miles travelled
means something more than journey.…

“i want to go home,
but home is the mouth of a shark
home is the barrel of the gun
and no one would leave home
unless home chased you to the shore
unless home told you
to quicken your legs
leave your clothes behind
crawl through the desert
wade through the oceans
be hunger
forget pride
your survival is more important.”

Desperation brought Jakelin and her father to the border, but our doors are closed to them, and to the other fathers and mothers and children seeking shelter.

Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.

Listen to the words of John the Baptist and try to justify closing our border to parents who packed up their children and trekked thousands of miles to what they hope will be a safer life, a place where they can find work and earn money to feed their children, a place where their children can go to school and live a better life.

Listen to those words and try to justify deporting immigrants who have lived in this country for decades, working and paying taxes and building homes and families and lives, but undocumented because our laws give them no path to become legal immigrants, no line to stand in for green cards, no hope at all.

Listen to those words and try to justify deporting 46 Cambodians who have lived here since they came as children with their parents, driven out of their country in the aftermath of the Vietnam War. Many of them were born in refugee camps, grew up here as legal U.S. residents, have never set foot in Cambodia, the country that their parents fled. They committed crimes, mostly decades ago, served their time, came back to their families and communities—but they will be on a plane to Cambodia on Monday, deported from the only home they have ever known.

Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.

Screen Shot 2018-12-16 at 7.30.46 AM.pngAnyone who has none. Surely that includes the starving children and the whole people of Yemen. Nicholas Kristoff wrote a few days ago about Abrar Ibrahim, a 12-year-old girl in Yemen who weighs just 28 pounds. “The most common war casualty in Yemen,” he wrote, “is not a soldier with a bullet but a child who is starving.

Abrar is twelve years old. Think of a twelve-year-old child you know. Now look at the photograph again. Abrar is one of millions of Yemenis, young and old, on the brink of starvation because of a war supported by our tax dollars. Tens of thousands of children like her have already died of starvation.

Bear fruits worthy of repentance.

Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.

Does that mean me? Does that mean the coat hanging in my closet, the food in my pantry? Does that mean us: our national wealth, our jobs, our grain bins filled to bursting, our store shelves overflowing with food and clothing and toys and gadgets?

In this season of giving, I can bring food to food shelves, send money to refugee relief committees, check my closets and bring coats to those who have none.

Personal generosity is good and necessary, but repentance means more than opening individual closets and pantries and checkbooks. Repentance also means taking responsibility for our part as citizens of a nation for the sins committed in our name. Taking responsibility starts with learning about their suffering and moves to letter writing and phone calling and voting to change national policies and actions that harm people.

Individual actions may seem small and without impact, but they are seeds planted, and those seeds can grow and bear the fruits John calls for, the fruits worthy of repentance.




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