by Dena Nicolai
As we enter this season of Advent, I have been reflecting on what it means to listen.
At a time when the Syrian refugee crisis leads voices from all corners to yell, “Act!,” the din can almost drown out that most ancient of calls from Deuteronomy 6:4, “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one.”
This “hearing” was meant to remind Israel of its identity and calling as the people of God. Today, it reminds us of this same identity as a people who follow the way of the risen and ascended Lord, a Lord who, incarnate, was himself a refugee – a startling reminder to some. As poet Malcolm Guite writes, “We think of [Christ] as safe beneath the steeple / Or cosy in a crib beside the font / But he is with a million displaced people / On the long road of weariness and want.”
Christ’s identification with the most vulnerable among us demands that we listen to those who find themselves as refugees. We must seek their voices among the voices of fear in our midst, those telling us to protect our own welfare, our own security, our own prosperity.
The longing of Advent and the celebration of Christmas this year must also involve preparing for the arrival of thousands of Syrian refugees.
Yet, perhaps paradoxically, the Gospel call also demands that we listen to those Canadians afraid of the impact of such an influx of newcomers. Though it is far easier to dismiss these voices as ignorant, selfish, or Islamophobic, listening is perhaps the most just thing we can do. Fear generates a fight-or-flight response. Yet listening, at its best, implies patience, reflection, and a dignifying of the one speaking.
Of course, listening is not solely passive — it demands a response. Like the prophet Habbakuk, we are called to proclaim: “I will stand at my watch and station myself on the ramparts; I will look to see what [God] will say to me and what answer I am to give to this complaint.”
From what I observe, CPJ has taken up Habakkuk’s call to listen and response with vigour. To those who sit in refugee camps, detainment centres, and border huddles it answers, “We hear your cries. We are pushing our government and our institutions to help Canadians welcome you.” To those in the halls of power it answers, “We heard the promise you made to facilitate the arrival of 25,000 Syrian refugees to Canada. We are holding you to account.” To churches and organizations wishing to sponsor these refugees it answers, “We heard about the bureaucratic barriers and difficulties you face in the sponsorship process. We are advocating on your behalf.” To the fearful it answers, “We hear your fear. Bring us your questions and concerns. We wish to engage them critically, with research and analysis, without dismissal.”
The longing of Advent and the celebration of Christmas this year must also involve preparing for the arrival of thousands of Syrian refugees. In the midst of these preparations, God’s word in 1 John 4:18 continues to exhort us, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear.”
And especially in this time of Advent expectation, God continues to call us: “Listen!”
Can you hear the voice of one calling? “In the wilderness prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places plain. And the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all people will see it together.” (Isaiah 40:3-5)
Dena Nicolai lives in Vancouver and is completing her MA in Theological Studies, with a focus on Church History, at Regent College.