It is Advent, the days when we remember that Jesus is coming to us, the days when we imagine Mary and Joseph making a long and difficult trek—first, to get to a place where they can find shelter and give birth, and then, to escape the murderous rage of a king.
The Jesus we follow was a refugee and an immigrant.
After he was born, fearing that King Herod would murder Jesus as they returned to their homeland in Judea, Mary and Joseph fled with their child to Egypt. The story, in Matthew 2, is not often read in churches because it disrupts our ideas of the nativity. Who wants to move from a peaceful and joyful manger scene to a chaotic story of violence and fear? But this is our story, and this is the Jesus we follow: a child who survived a massacre by fleeing to a safer land.
Two thousand years later, with refugee crises going on all around the world, we must remember that the very existence of Jesus calls us to see the presence of God in all people. We must see those who immigrate and flee and seek refuge across borders as images of God, no more and no less than any other person.
Speaking of the shameful ethnic cleansing happening in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, Pope Francis said last week that “the presence of God today is also called Rohingya.” We see the presence of God in “the least of these”—in the Rohingya Muslims who are being slaughtered, in Syrian refugees that still seek shelter, in the children of immigrants to this country who have made it their home, in the undocumented immigrants who are finding sanctuary in our churches, and in a thousand thousand others across the planet.
This Advent, as we hear the news of our broken and breaking world, we remember that God came down to earth in the most unlikely of ways. When we see the pictures of drowned refugee children on beaches, shell-shocked toddlers stunned with ashes on their faces, and babies carried in their parents arms across borders, we remember that these too are the face of Jesus.
This Advent, as we begin to recognize Jesus in all of these faces, I pray that we are moved to act. I pray that we remember that each time we welcome a stranger—no matter where they come from, no matter what they’ve done—we are welcoming the very presence of God-with-us. Every time we welcome a stranger, we are doing it to Christ himself.
This Advent, our hearts will be changed, and we will see the light coming into the world, and we will see that the darkness cannot overcome it.
Want to know more of the background about Jesus’ refugee status? This article is succinct but quite deep: https://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/people-cultures-in-the-bible/jesus-historical-jesus/jesus-was-a-refugee/
Lindsay Popper is a member of the Immigration and Refugee Task Team. She is the Minister of Christian Education at Allin Congregational Church (UCC) in Dedham, and the Chaplain at Sherrill House Nursing Home in Jamaica Plain.
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