On Christmas Eve, most of us enjoyed a beautiful church service where we were reminded of the messy, unlikely birth of the Prince of Peace. Some of us sat in candlelit services and sang “Silent Night.” Christmas Eve ushered in the official Christmas season with its twelve days ending in Epiphany or Three Kings Day. This is when we celebrate the arrival of the Magi from the East bearing gifts for the King of Kings. When the last guests to welcome the newborn king return home, we pack away our Christmas decorations and try to jump into a brand new year. However, what happened next in the story does not get a holiday to commemorate it.
Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, "Rise, 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." And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, "Out of Egypt I called my son."
Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. (Matthew 2:13-16, ESV)
What happened next is nothing short of a tragedy. In today’s terms, it was a crime against humanity. It is a story of Joseph, Mary, and young Jesus fleeing their native land and settling in Egypt. It is a story of a wicked leader so bent on keeping his throne that he ordered the slaughter of every male child in Bethlehem two years old and younger. It is a heartbreaking tale that we don’t want to remember; we don’t try to envision. And yet, it is a tale we should reflect on. Our Lord and Savior became a refugee.
A few months ago, I attended the Refugee Food and Art Festival in New York City featuring two organizations, Sanctuary Kitchen and Displaced Kitchens. Aminah, a Syrian refugee living in Connecticut who arrived in America in November of 2016, cooked a typical Syrian brunch for all the guests. We ate together and listened to Aminah share her harrowing tale of how her religion and ethnicity made her family a target of political persecution, forcing her family to leave behind their home, their jobs, and all that was familiar. She described the middle of the night journey her family took across the desert into Jordan utilizing a system of local people much like the Underground Railroad the United States had in the 1800s. We ate and wept with her. We felt her loss, her fear, and her dreams for her family. She shared about her years in the refugee camp awaiting approval for relocation, her concerns of where she would be sent, and how her family would survive in a new land. Hearing her story helped me to better understand both the complex political issues surrounding the Syrian Civil War as well as the plight of refugee families around the world. As Aminah shared her personal story, I was changed.
Emmanuel, God with us, chose to be born in a stable to a poor family and live his childhood days as a refugee in Egypt. He chose to associate with the broken, the oppressed, and all those in need of a savior. He did all this for us. When we take some time to reflect on this next chapter in the Christmas story, Jesus’s tale of his days as a refugee, it can change how we think about and care for others in their times of need. As a school community, as families, and within our churches, we are privileged to be the hands and feet of Jesus to those in need throughout our community and world.