Borders are significant places. They come in all shapes and sizes. A border can be a doorway, a gate, a fence, a street, a river, a wall, or a line drawn in the sand.
Scripture is filled with stories of individuals who crossed borders. At the prompting of God, Abraham left the security of his native land, Ur, and crossed many borders until he came to the land of Canaan. Years later, the Hebrews, under Moses’ leadership, crossed the Red Sea in their quest for freedom. Later still, their descendents crossed the Jordan River into the Promised Land.
In today’s world, we are all too familiar with stories of people risking their lives to cross a border. We see pictures of crowds of people gathered at our U.S. southern border. Or we see the small boats crammed with refugees fleeing their war-torn countries in the Middle East for a new life in Europe. Sometimes they are successful. Sometimes they are turned away. Sometimes they die trying to cross a border.
The seasons of Advent and Christmas celebrate a border crossing of another kind: the Incarnation. As the writer Rebecca Douglas has said, at the Annunciation, God, through Mary, “stepped over the line not only between heaven and earth, but also between divinity and humanity.” Unfortunately, we sometimes take this incredible mystery for granted. We fail “to quake at the inbreak of God Almighty,” writes Brennan Manning, “and we rob Christmas of its shock value.”
Jesus was a border crosser both by his life and teachings. He crossed the borders of convention by freely associating with all kinds of people: men and women, rich and poor, Jew and Gentile, young and old, healthy and sick. He challenged his followers to cross borders too. The command “Love one another” means to reach across the often invisible borders that divide us. It means to put an end to the divisions that separate us. It means to tear down the barriers we have constructed–often out of fear–between ourselves and the stranger or the unknown.
We know we might be refusing Jesus’ invitation to be a border crosser if we find ourselves saying or thinking things like these: “But this is the way I have always done things… I’m too old (too tired, too busy) to change… Those people are not like me at all… I am not responsible for anyone except myself and my family… Please don’t give me any new information. I am comfortable with what I already know…”
On the other hand, we know we might be a border crosser if we say or think things like these: “May I help you?… What are you going through?… I’ve never done anything like this before… May I tell you my story?… We’re more alike than I ever imagined…I’m beginning to see things differently now…”
This Advent, may our prayer be: O Jesus, Incarnate One, you stand at the edge of our borders, at the walls we have constructed mostly out of fear, and you say, “Cross over!” But we say, “I can’t. I’m too afraid.” You say, “I will be with you.” Loving Jesus, help us to be border crossers like you. Help us to move freely from here to there, from the familiar to the new, from safety into the unknown. Give us the strength for doing the hard work of real loving. Help us to befriend all kinds of people–not just people who look and think as we do. Give us the courage to invite others into the sacred space of who we are. And finally, this Advent, we thank you for becoming one of us and showing us the way to true freedom, happiness, and oneness with you and with each other. Amen.
What borders have you had to cross in your life?
Have you ever found yourself saying or thinking one of the things in the last two paragraphs (before the candles and prayer)? If so, what was the occasion? How did you feel as you said it or thought it?
What are some of the borders in today’s world that Jesus is challenging us as individuals and a church community to cross?
PS: I am away this week for a week of intense and uninterrupted writing. I will be working on my next book. I ask for your prayers for this “holy time.” Thank you! (Next week’s reflection will be posted on Monday as usual.)
Our song today is the ancient Advent hymn, “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” This is a beautiful instrumental version by the Piano Guys, with piano and cello. For me, this hymn captures humanity’s longing for peace, oneness, and love.
I invite you to respond to this reflection below.