by Emily Heitzman

Every year at this time, as I turn on the TV or a Christmas music station, I am reminded of the many people who cannot relate to the majority of Christmas songs, TV shows and movies, which emphasize the importance of going home for the holidays.  I cannot help but think about those who lack a safe place they can call home, whether they have been forced from their homes because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, deportation, a broken relationship, violence, a natural disaster, or an unjust economic system.

I know this is not one of our Advent texts, but as we approached Advent, I was reminded of Moses’ call story in Exodus 3:1-12.

For many years, there had been a famine in the land of Canaan, and as a result, the Israelites left their homes in great numbers and traveled to Egypt to make a better life. However, Pharaoh disliked the growing numbers of Israelites who were taking refuge in his land. He did not want them to make Egypt their new home. So Pharaoh took advantage of the situation and turned these refugees into slaves. For centuries, the Hebrew refugees were forced into terrible working conditions and became victims of racism and violence. In their enslavement, they longed for release from their captivity and suffering and cried out to God.

And this is where Exodus 3 comes in. God appears to Moses in the form of a burning bush and calls out to him, saying:

“‘I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians and to bring them out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, . . . So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.’ But Moses said to God, ‘Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?’ He said, ‘I will be with you;’” (Exodus 3:7-12)

Advent is a time of waiting. It is a time when we are called to wait for the coming of the One who will proclaim good news to the poor, bring release to the captives, give sight to the blind, and let the oppressed go free. It is a time when we are to wait for the One who will bring hope, peace, joy and love and who will shine light into the places of pain and injustice in this world.

And yet, we should not wait idly twiddling our thumbs. Rather, we are called to wait expectantly. To wait in preparation for the coming of this baby boy who will soon turn the worldly systems of injustice and oppression upside down. And it is a time when we are to equip ourselves so that we might become followers of this radical justice-proclaimer and peacemaker.

In Advent, we light one more candle each week and watch the light grow in the midst of the world’s suffering. As we do, we are called to not only receive this light, but to shine it so that others might see God’s path toward peace and justice and find their way home.

When God saw the suffering and oppression of God’s people who were denied a true home, God called out to Moses from a burning bush, commissioning him to name and condemn injustice and to lead God’s people to freedom. God called Moses to shine light so that the people of God could see a hopeful path and to offer them a new, safe place in which they could live.

And centuries later, as so many of God’s people continue to experience violence and feel a sense of homelessness, God calls out to us, too:

I have heard the cries of my people losing their homes in California, Puerto Rico, Indonesia, Honduras, and I have heard the cries of my children being separated from their parents. I know the sufferings of my children in Libya, Syria, Burma, and those who are at the Mexican border. I have come to deliver my people from detention centers, abuse, poverty, homelessness. 

Go, lead my people out of the captivity of injustice and oppression and into a good and broad land. One in which all of my people will have access to food, shelter, and clean water. One in which all will be free from racism, homophobia, transphobia, or economic inequality. One where no child seeking asylum will be sprayed with tear gas or violently separated from their families.

One where all of my children can call home.

Go, and tell the Pharaoh to let my people go.

Like Moses, we may ask: “Who am I to go to Pharaoh and bring your people out of captivity?”

But in these times when we question our adequacy, let us hear God’s answer to Moses: “I will be with you.” And as we do, let us not forget that Jesus is our Immanuel, our God, who is with us always.

God is calling out to you. Will you answer?

Discussion questions:

1. Who are today’s Hebrew refugees that are held captive?

2. How is God calling you to tell Pharaoh to “let my people go?” (Exodus 5:1)

3. What is holding you back from responding to God’s call?

Closing prayer:

Everlasting God, we hear you calling out to us to help release your people from captivity. And yet, we often question our adequacy and let our fears of criticisms and failure hold us back from responding to your call. But here we are, Lord, ready to follow your lead. As we do, we ask that you give us words to proclaim good news to those who are poor, open our eyes so that we might see the needs of those around us, provide us with courage to speak out against injustices that keep others captive, and give us strength to persevere until all are freed from oppression. We ask these things your name, Amen.

The Rev. Emily Heitzman (she/her/hers) is an ordained Presbyterian serving as the shared pastor with youth and households for three ELCA congregations in the neighborhood of Edgewater in Chicago. You can read more of her reflections, sermons and youth ministry lessons at her blog:

A version of this article first appeared in the December 2014 issue of Cafe.