There has been a great deal of fear coming across our land for several weeks now. This fear is marked by uncertainty and waiting for the next attack. We Americans are not used to being in uncertain times recently. We see attacks like the one in San Bernadino and we are left wondering – how did this happen? We hear about scores of refugees coming from a war-torn foreign and distant land, Syria, and some are left wondering – Will they bring war to us? Are we safe?
The threat of terror and violence is real. It causes some to question what we see around us – especially when someone we see looks different or speaks a foreign language, or practices a different religion. A question goes through some minds – are they a terrorist? Are they here to kill us? Are they here to cause us harm?
As we prepare for Christmas, we sit with a unique season – Advent. It is a season of waiting. A season of preparation. A season in contrast to our culture which has been celebrating Christmas since Halloween ended.
We hear the stories of John the Baptist, a lone voice in the wilderness telling us to prepare for the Lord. This week he will hear John proclaim the Good News to the crowd who seeks him out that God’s kingdom is open to all, not just those of the lineage of Abraham. John will call on the crowd to act upon their faith. And the crowd will ask what they should do. The resented tax collectors will ask what should be do. The soldiers will ask, what should we do. And with them, we stand calling out to John saying “What should we do?”
John’s answer is an uncommon answer. He tells the crowd and those of us who read this week’s Scripture to care for our neighbor, to cloth those who need a shirt, to feed the hungry, to do our work honestly, to not abuse our power and authority over others.
As Christians, we are called to care for our neighbor. And who is our neighbor? It’s the person who lives next door to us. It’s the elderly couple down the street. It’s the senior citizen sitting alone in a nursing home who sees no purpose for their life. It’s the hungry in line at the food pantries. It’s the foreigner whose skin is darker than ours and who speak a foreign language. It’s the Muslim. It is the addict and alcoholic. It the person with a different sexual orientation. It’s the person who society defines as “different” or potentially “dangerous.” Different can be scary. We can choose to either allow that fear to shut us down and build up a wall of supposed safety, or we can be like the Good Samaritan and help someone in need.
The Syrian refugees are a people in need and they are our neighbors. When Pennsylvania starts to receive these refugees, I expect our Lutheran churches will be there to assist these people. I expect that we will show them love and kindness. I expect that we will show them hospitality. I expect that we will work to find them a home for their families. I expect that we will do our best to answer John the Baptist’s call.
Jesus spent a great deal of time with people who didn’t look like him. He was told to stay away from foreigners, the sick, the lame, prostitutes, tax collectors, women and children – the outcasts, unwanted and those considered “dangerous” of his time. Yet, he ignored this advice.
It wasn’t the outcasts, unwanted and “dangerous” that ultimately killed Jesus. It was people who looked like him, talked like him and practiced the same religion.
Jesus doesn’t call us to safety. He told us to take up our cross and follow him. Sometimes that cross takes us places we would rather not go or deal with situations we would rather not deal with. And other times that cross allows us to walk alongside another person who is suffering. Today we are called to serve. Today we are called to welcome neighbors who have traveled such a long distance. Today we are called to a risky love.