Rev. Cleve May, pastor at CityWell UMC, shares about their church’s decision to provide protective sanctuary for Samuel Oliver-Bruno during the season of Advent. 

It is a relatively recent development in my understanding that the season of Advent is a gift through which we learn how to yearn deeply. For a long time, I thought that Advent meant taking four weeks to get ready for Christmas. In that way of thinking, I saw Advent as a time of preparing to remember that Jesus came to us as one of us. Now that remembrance is a good gift, but it is not the good gift of Advent. Advent offers the gift of preparing for the coming of the Lord, the hopeful declaration that the Christ who came comes to us now, and Christ will come again.

It is common in the season of Advent to focus on weekly themes like hope, love, joy, and peace. As I am coming to see it, these themes help us prepare for the coming of the Lord by teaching us to yearn for all that the Lord brings with his coming. But yearning requires something that is very difficult for many of us. To yearn for all that Jesus brings at his coming means reckoning honestly with the ways in which we do not presently experience things like hope, love, joy, and peace. To yearn for these things is to acknowledge the fact that we currently experience a painful deficit of them.

On December 10, the second Sunday of Advent, Samuel Oliver-Bruno moved into CityWell seeking protective sanctuary from ICE, as he had recently received a deportation order. Samuel is a passionate follower of Jesus who came to faith twelve years ago under the ministry of two current CityWellers who used to be his pastors. When he received the order for deportation last month, he reached out to his former pastors and asked for help. The Leadership Team at CityWell learned the details of Samuel’s story and came to discern that the Lord was calling us to welcome Samuel as Christ has welcomed us – namely, without regard for nationality, ethnicity, or immigration status. So, we began to prepare for the coming of Samuel.

Much like the preparation of Advent, preparing for the coming of Samuel has meant new yearnings that entail reckoning with profound areas of deficit. We are yearning for justice for Samuel, his family, and millions more of our undocumented brothers and sisters. And this yearning means reckoning with profound deficits of justice and our own complicity in our nation’s current immigration policies. We are yearning for unity in the body of Christ. In the last two weeks, we have received vitriolic and venomous messages in mass over from other Christians who insist that no bible-believing church would ever flagrantly break the law. And so we yearn for grace and humility in the face of polarized fracture within the body of Christ. But more than anything we are yearning to know Jesus more. We believe Jesus when he said, “When I was a stranger you welcomed me… for whenever you did it unto the least of these, you did it unto me,” and we are hopeful that in welcoming Samuel we are welcoming our Lord.

In this Advent season, and in this sanctuary journey, our deepest prayer remains: Come, Lord Jesus. Come. Amen.