Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.” When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah: “A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.” When Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who were seeking the child’s life are dead.” Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And after being warned in a dream, he went away to the district of Galilee. There he made his home in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, “He will be called a Nazorean.”
About a couple years ago, I had the opportunity to take individuals to go vote. For some of these people, it was their first time which was very exciting for them and for me. Many of the people we took to vote were either immigrants or refugees all having gained their citizenship while taking English classes with a local organization in town. Immigration, refugees and asylum seekers have been in the main stream media for years especially this year. It’s been all over the news because of the election and this administration. It’s been all over the internet and news articles because of the crisis in Syria and other countries. It’s been in our face all year. But looking at all that has happened this past year, this experience of taking immigrants and refugees to vote was one of the most powerful experiences that I’ve ever had.
One of these people is a women from Somalia. She was a refugee who had fled Somalia with her 3 year old son because the country was in a civil war and there was no where else from them to go. She told the story of how she escaped with her life from the rages of a war torn country to this country where she is perceived differently because of how she looks and what she wears around her head – her hijab. She is a Muslim woman who ran away from terror and is often accused of being a terrorist – kinda of ironic right? These types of stories happen everyday and the passage from Matthew is no different.
Matthew tells us that the wisemen have visited Jesus and went another way because of Herod. Herod wanted them to tell him where the Christ child was born. Matthew goes on to tell us that after they had left an angel comes to the Joseph in a dream and tells him to get up and take the child and his mother and go, get out of this place and go to Egypt because Herod is seeking to kill you. And Joseph obeyed and did what the angel told him to do.
The definition of a refugee is a person who has been forced to leave their country in order to escape war, persecution, or natural disaster. I think that this definition sounds a lot like what was happening to Joseph and Mary – being forced to leave their lands and flee to another land in order to escape the wrath of Herod – a jealous dictator who was terrified of losing his rule over his people. He is so fearful that when he finds out that the baby and his parents have escaped, he retaliates and kills hundreds of babies who are two years old or under. He killed them because he was tricked. He killed them because he didn’t get what he wanted and because his power was threatened. He killed the innocent because of greed and delusion. It is not an old story…this happens every day.
I think that this definition sounds a lot like what was happening to Joseph and Mary – being forced to leave their lands and flee to another land in order to escape the wrath of Herod – a jealous dictator who was terrified of losing his rule over his people.
It is often said that pastors shouldn’t talk politics and we should only speak theology; however, it is hard to avoid politics when it is written right here in the biblical scripture. It is hard not to mention those who flee for their lives when our savior had to flee for his life even when he was a small baby before finding home in Nazareth. This story is as real as it gets. This story is as political as it gets.
The ancient writings from the area that is modern day Syria written in Syriac are unique because these ancient peoples wrote narratives that filled the biblical gaps. For example, when Mary tells Joseph that she is pregnant with the baby Jesus and was conceived by the Holy Spirit, there is a story that fills that gap and describes the quarrel between Mary and Joseph. So, I wonder what could be said about the gaps in this story?
Were Joseph and Mary worried about their families? Were they worried about the other children who were being killed? Were those being killed members of their familes? How hard was it to leave behind all they knew and all they had? Did others flee from Herod? Did the people in Egypt except them when they came? I’m sure Mary and Joseph looked different and I’m sure they did not do what the Egyptians did. Im sure they were looked at as the “other.” Even in the Roman empire they were looked at as the “other” because of their Jewishness.
This “otherness” is the Christ we follow. This is his story and his life and in his blood. Christ was a refugee. Christ was the other. Christ had to flee. Refugees and whether or not to except them is not only political, it is theological. It’s foundational to our Christian ways —to open our arms to those who have lived the life that Christ lived.
This “otherness” is the Christ we follow. This is his story and his life and in his blood. Christ was a refugee. Christ was the other.
I know that this story isn’t the fairy tale Christmas story that we are all used to hearing, but it is one that we must read and discuss. In a time where people are dying from rulers who only think of themselves; in a time where children are dying at our borders because of political polarities and fears; in a time of political trickeries and power hungry monarchical dreamers, there is no better story to awaken us and to turn ourselves back to God.
In a time where people are dying from rulers who only think of themselves; in a time where children are dying at our borders because of political polarities and fears; in a time of political trickeries and power hungry monarchical dreamers, there is no better story to awaken us and to turn ourselves back to God.
John the Baptist calls us to ‘repent’ which is a scary word for some of us. The word for repent in Greek actually means “to turn” or “to return.” John says “turn or return for the kingdom of God is near.” Turn toward the face of Christ, turn toward the face of God and there we shall see the face of a God who reflects the refugee and the other because Christ was just that.
The Somali woman mentioned earlier also talked about the meaning of home. Someone told her to go back to her home while being confronted at a grocery store. And she asked us, “What is home?” What is home? Is it our houses or our buildings or our cities or our countries? Those things can be taken away in an moment. Is it our churches or our money or our nice cars or Christmas presents? No, because those things can be taken away as well.
What is home? Is it our houses or our buildings or our cities or our countries? Those things can be taken away in an moment. Is it our churches or our money or our nice cars or Christmas presents? No, because those things can be taken away as well.
But home for the Christian is turning to see our Savior in the refugee that is fleeing from terror who is seeking safety, to see Christ in those who are the other, who cannot find rest, and to see the world for what it is — a world that is run by money and greed and power. That brothers and sisters is our callings as Christians especially during this Christmas season.