An open-eyed smile and look of wonder on the face of a Syrian child greeted Pope Francis on Lesbos last week.
The Mediterranean island receives many migrants fleeing their countries because of war and poverty. That smile cut through all the fear and calculation with which many in Europe greet refugees. We can imagine the frustration and anger behind closed doors in Europe’s capitals towards a pope who speaks inspiring words but does not have the political obstacles the continent’s leaders would have to face if they opened their doors.
But is this not the nub where safety and risk meet? The sensible, prudent and practical thing to do is to close the door, build fences and walls and patrol the roads and seas. ‘We cannot handle all these people.’ But in our hearts, we know this is not a solution. It is like apartheid in the old South Africa or the karabha (colour bar) in the old Rhodesia. We are ‘safe’ behind our walls. But for how long? And at what cost? Those who built walls then were not safe and those who build them now are not either.
Yet the risk of opening doors fills us with anxiety. Strangers in our midst, who do not know our language and hold to foreign customs and faiths, unsettle us. Some of them might even have hostile intentions, coming to plant bombs and kill people.
So Francis makes us feel uncomfortable because he is really saying, ‘You of little faith, why do you doubt?’ He is asking us to step out of the boat and do the ‘impossible’. And is it not because we cannot take these steps that our freedom is so much postponed? The kingdom, or reign, of God is ‘kicked down the alley’. We don’t want to deal with the toughest questions. There is a ‘big gulf’ (Luke 16:26) between what we call security and the world of the Beatitudes. And the hardest thing is that we actually have the power to solve this issue of migration, but we do not have the will.
In the third week of Advent our theme turns to joy. ‘Shout for joy’ (Zephaniah), ‘I want you to be happy, always happy’ (Paul). And John the Baptist, ‘if you have two tunics, share with one who has none’. There is joy in sharing. If we can get over our fear of reaching out to others, we will discover great joy.
12 December 2012 Advent Sunday 3C Zeph 3:14-18 Ph 4: 4-7 Lk 3:10-18