Headlong into Christmas we all seem to rush, but it is still advent and the hurry, whilst certainly to do with preparation, has little to do with penance. It might not have been the kind of preparation John the Baptist had in mind when he told people, ‘Prepare the way of the Lord’. What preparation though would he be demanding of us today?
John challenged people to prepare themselves but also to look around at those in need and help them. Who are those most in need in our midst? Surely no one these days actually has nothing. Social security provides a safety net. The homeless shelters take people in, and feed them, and even help with clothing. But, do you know, there are actually those who have nothing. There are even people whom the shelters will not take at all? There are those in Britain, not just in major towns and cities but in your town on your streets, on your doorsteps who actually have nothing, not even food, and are hungry?
These people are asylum seekers. They have committed no criminal act. Routinely now, those who through no fault of their own, did not know that they had to claim asylum the moment they got to immigration control, but only found out even an hour later are denied all benefits. They are also prevented from working so they cannot earn their keep, as many would happily do. And these are not economic migrants, they are almost all from countries with which we have either been to war, or which have massive abuses of human rights. (Otherwise we would expect to see many more from the poorer African countries.) Many come highly educated, as many as 30% actually have a degree. In many cases, they cannot even be returned to their countries of origin, because it is not safe to send people back to places like Zimbabwe, Somalia, and Iraq. Their basic human rights were denied them in their home countries and they come here and find that they denied them here as well.
They are expected to have perfect knowledge of how the asylum system works here, before they arrive, even if English is not their first language — not that it gets explained to them at any stage.
So we have people now, without benefits, without work and without shelter, because the shelters only take in those for whom the state will pay for a bed, i.e. people who are British. We have managed to create a whole new underclass in our society, and one which generally gets nothing but vilification and blame from the media, as if they did not already have enough with which to cope.
So if you ask me what I think John the Baptist would be saying, I think he would be talking to us about asylum seekers. We might want to recall that Christ himself was a refugee in Egypt, that his family were even visitors to the town where he was born. And are we not to treat every asylum seeker, every refugee as Christ?
If you really want to help, if you really want to make a difference, then that would involve sharing money perhaps, but more importantly time, that is — getting involved directly; helping groups to distribute food, to dispense advice. But perhaps most important way of all, the way everyone can help them, is by not judging them before they have met them, and attempting to see behind the headlines, the rhetoric and the tinsel to see what life is really like for those who are marginalised on your streets this Advent and Christmastide.
And the latest news from the streets… the government want to take away Christ from his asylum seeking family — all for his own good you understand, because otherwise he would be destitute, too. And immediately with birth we see crucifixion as well.