The past couple of years I’ve enjoyed writing some “Spotting Jesus” posts during the Advent season. After all, Advent is about waiting for and expecting Jesus’ arrival – not just the first time (Bethlehem) or the last time (Second Coming), but THIS time. Right now, right here. I’ll do a few more of these over the coming days, but I invite you to consider – where have you seen Jesus today, arriving in an unexpected way? How did he surprise you? How did he change you by his arrival?
(The following reflection is looking back on my time at a Croatian refugee camp last month)
I stood in the stillness of that night in Croatia, listening for a train horn that might sound at any second, signaling the arrival of a train full of refugees. The night was cold and dark, but a tiny ray of peace and hope shone through the fog…
I have to confess that I found the empty camp a little unnerving at night. The thick fog, the empty alleyways between the tents and buildings, the bright, sterile lights shining down from high poles… Truth be told, the railroad tracks and the layout reminded me of the WWII concentration camps I’ve visited here in Europe.
As a group of us walked along the fenceline next to the railroad tracks, a long line of container-pods emerged from the fog. Many of the camp “guests” (refugees and immigrants) spend the night on cots in military-grade canvas tents. But these pods are slightly more substantial: They are heated and contain a few simple cots – a quiet, warm space for families with small children to spend the night.
There were no guests in the camp that night, so I was surprised to notice a ray of light shining out of one of the pod windows, illuminating the thick fog at the end of the railroad tracks. We pointed it out to one of the other volunteers.
“That’s where the family with the new baby is staying,” he told us. “They’ll stay here for a few days until they’re able to travel with the baby.”
A baby? Born in the midst of all this? Yes, a baby – one of hundreds who have been born on trains or in camps these last few months.
Most of us are used to putting our lives on hold while we travel – we rearrange doctor’s visits and meetings if we need to travel somewhere. And if we’re going to have a baby, we certainly wouldn’t set out on a journey like this. We’d put aside all other plans, if we were able, to create a safe time and place for the new arrival.
Which makes these stories all the more powerful, of babies who are born “on the run.” Their parents didn’t have the choice to wait for life to stop. When this child was conceived, the parents may have had no idea their lives would change so greatly in the next few months. Life didn’t stop, life doesn’t stop.
But in this eerie place, the presence of this baby and his small family helps me feel at peace… and sparks something in my memory. New life in the midst of a tumultuous journey. A baby sleeping in a temporary shelter. A light shining in the darkness. Visits and gifts from strangers… I’m powerfully reminded of another story – a story I wasn’t present for, but whose details I’ve reimagined a hundred times. A story I’ll be telling to my children again in these coming weeks.
The night was dark, cold and quiet, but a tiny ray of peace and hope shone through the fog…