Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel (which means, God with us).
On the 7th of December the entire capital of Colombia, Bogotá, stops to light a candle. We shine the way for the arrival of Maria and her unborn baby son. Kids run free and adults chat while drinking steaming cups of chocolate and eating roasted corn. We are waiting for the coming of a baby and of peace, yet Jesus arrives as a stranger to Bogota everyday: in an overloaded bus, by foot, or on the back of a motorcycle.
Colombia contains the highest number of internationally displaced people in the world. Over 5 million people have been forcibly removed from their homes during the last 50 years due to continuing armed conflict. They are refugees and strangers in their own country, journeying from the country to the city. Life is converted from the comforts of the familiar to the confusion of culture shock and non-belong.
Yet wherever the Christ-child appears, miracles take place if we are open to participate. Hands are extended and join together, in welcome, in aid and in movements for change, even in the midst of violence. Small communities are formed between the strangers who arrive. Refugees plant urban gardens on rooftops and starts soup kitchens and day cares for children. Mothers demand the return of their disappeared children. We greet and care for each other as if each of us was a reflection of a newborn baby: fragile, strange to the world, and needing the strength of all. Hope lives in the city, if only in the choice to continue to live everyday as if peace were a reality.
I light a candle on the 7th of December for the unborn Christ and his young mother. I also light a candle for the journeying Jesus, the displaced Messiah who enters the city as a stranger with no place to lay his head.
God with us, we light candles as a sign of our hope and of remembrance, as a sign of our faith that cycles of violence can be broken, that strangers can be welcomed, and that the promise of birth and accompanying new life is already alive in Bogota and around the world. Give us the grace to participate.
Anna Vogt is a service worker with Mennonite Central Committee in Bogota, Colombia where she works with a local partner, Justapaz.