Christmas Island & Advent

Each day my commute begins with a trip on the Manly ferry. It’s a great way to start the day – coffee, reflection, and a chance to contemplate one of the world’s great harbours.  Tourists who travel for pleasure love only the blue sky, sunny, calm water days, but seasoned ferry commuters learn to love the more subtlle, less flashy moods of the harbor.  The Emerald City can be wearer-of-the-black serious. The quiet introspection of drizzly grey days on the harbor have their place in the ryhthmn of our lives. So too the wild days and slightly perverse delight in picking up one’s briefcase just in time on those occasions when a wave washes through the lower deck!

Some days, heading out from the wharf, all seems calm but by the time we reach the heads there’s no ignoring the mighty swell running.  Twice I’ve even spilt my coffee. Other times the choppy surface conditions may look alarming but fail to trouble our old tub in the slightest. The Manly ferries (real Manly ferries, not those silly Jetcats) are sturdy ocean-going vessels.  They’re made of Newcastle steel and were sailed down the coast from Carrington Slipways to be delivered in Sydney all those years ago. Any morning we could turn left out of the heads and sail safely to New Zealand. 

It’s been hard to take a ferry this week without thinking of the Christmas Island tragedy. I mean the whole Christmas Island tragedy. The desperation that drives people to embark on such a dangerous trip in wooden boats that are smaller and less seaworthy than the Manly ferry, the massive resources dedicated to interception, the pretense that it isn’t really part of Australia, the conditions of incarceration, the wasted months and years of lives on hold, and the hardness of heart that the whole policy embodies. And the inevitable deaths.  The deaths that occurred this week right before our eyes.

We are spooked by a bit of foam on the surface of neatly regulated movement and fail to attend to the deep swell of human suffering which makes movement inevitable. The grief and distress of those who could do little more than look on at Christmas Island is both logical and decent.  We do well to contemplate grey mornings on the harbor rather than ignoring all but the blue sky, calm water days of fair breezes.  We are not tourists passing through, we live here and these things are our responsibility.

Christmas Island.  It is named after the Christ event, the incarnation in which God crossed borders to become one of us.  In this season of Advent as we prepare to welcome Emmanuel, God-with-us, will we continue to put out the ‘no room’ sign at the inn?  Will we recognize the face of God disappearing below waves?  Will we have the decency to grieve a little longer than the news cycle? And will our grief finally give birth to transformative action?

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