December 18, 2010, was a rough day for me. A week before Christmas — and four days before I planned to ask my girlfriend (now my wife) to marry me — I had plenty of reasons to be joyful, but on that Saturday, my heart was heavy with grief.
After having been introduced repeatedly over the past ten years, the DREAM Act passed the House of Representatives for the first time in December 2010, but on December 18, the Senate voted and, though a majority voted in favor, it missed the 60 vote supermajority necessary to pass. The DREAM Act would have provided temporary legal status to undocumented youth who entered the U.S. before their 16th birthday, who were of good moral character, who had been present in the U.S. for at least five years, and who earned a high school diploma or the equivalent in the U.S. That temporary legal status would give them the opportunity to go on to study or to serve in the military for at least two years, which would earn them a “green card” and the right to live and work permanently in the country that, in their hearts, is already their home.
There are several kids in my neighborhood whose hopes were pinned to the DREAM Act passing. But on December 18, it died — at least for this time around. I was giving a live update on Moody Radio Esperanza in Spanish at the time the final vote occurred, and I started to cry on air as I regretfully informed the audience of Spanish-speaking evangelicals of the final vote. While my sadness and frustration were nothing compared to what the “DREAMers” actually affected by the legislation directly felt — tragically, some have felt so hopeless without the DREAM Act that they have taken their own lives — I was still heartbroken and angry. I climbed into my bed for most of the rest of that day, crying out to God, asking him why this had happened.
I stumbled upon a blog entry that afternoon by my friend Crissy Brooks that helped me to process the grief of the DREAM Act loss. It explored what it looks like to mourn at Christmas. I went to a neighborhood Christmas party later that evening — a wonderfully happy time with neighbors from eight or nine countries, each having brought their food — but I didn’t really want to go, my heart heavy after the morning’s devastating vote. But Crissy’s blog helped me to hold in tension the dual realities that Christmas is both a time of “good tidings of great joy” (in Luke’s version of the nativity) and of “weeping and great mourning” (in Matthew’s account).
In the Incarnation, Christ brings hope to a world where, for the time being, Herod is still king, and all is not as it should be. Christmas includes the story of a terrible genocide — a traumatic refugee experience for young Jesus and his parents, and all the worse for those parents who were not warned in a dream and thus did not escape to Egypt before their infant sons were murdered — but as evangelicals we seldom reflect on this part of the story. (Catholic & Anglican Christians remember these victims on the Feast of the Holy Innocents on December 28, a practice I adopted for the first time last year.)
The great hope of Christmas, though, is that it represents the entry into history of a Prince of Peace, who will eventually dethrone Herod and Caesar and set all things right. We’re still living in that tension: Christ’s kingdom has been inaugurated but is not here in fullness yet, as the injustice of last December’s DREAM Act vote and a thousand other tragedies of poverty, conflict, and marginalization throughout our globe remind us. So Christmas is a time for mourning and for hopeful joy: and it is entirely right that Advent is a time of eager and expectant yearning. O Come, O Come, Emmanuel!
Matthew Soerens is the co-author of Welcoming the Stranger: Justice, Compassion & Truth in the Immigration Debate and is the U.S. Church Training Specialist at World Relief. This post originally appeared via UnDocumented.tv.