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There has been a lot of news coverage about refugees lately. Nearly every television report, every radio interview has political pundits talking about the impact of refugees. Our new Prime Minster has committed Canada to accepting ten thousand refugees. Given the time of the year, I find myself reflecting on what Joseph, Mary and thousands of other pilgrims must have felt like, being summoned to Bethlehem to be counted.

Scripture doesn’t provide us with much detail of those times, simply that “All the world should be registered” (Luke 2.1, NRSV) and that “Joseph went to the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David.” (Luke 2.4, NRSV)

Not much is told us of the community in which they lived, Nazareth, or the community to which they traveled, Bethlehem. Over the years Bethlehem has been romanticised into a peaceful, joyous place filled with the love of a newborn baby. Some of that is true, but much more detail is needed to fully understand the picture. We sing “the cattle are lowing” and assume it’s something delicate and lovely. Lowing cattle are loud cattle. They are calling to each other, and considering where the newborn baby was laid, in a food trough, also known as a manger, their lowing cry may have been for food.

The birth of Jesus – as the birth of any baby, was truly miraculous, especially given the place where he was born. The city was filled with people, who were there filled with fear because they had to be registered. There was not enough of anything for everyone who was there: not enough beds, not enough food, not enough room.

In the midst of fear and anxiety, Mary’s baby came. She was surrounded by strangers, and in the barn she had only her husband and animals to hear her cries as the baby Jesus was born. There were no receiving blankets or mobiles for him. He was wrapped in strips of clean cloth and tenderly laid in the manger. He nursed from his mother and in that moment the love of God came down and dwelt among us.

Joseph, Mary and baby Jesus were registered and then Joseph was warned in a dream to leave where they were. Joseph heeded the dream and fled to Egypt where they left one violent regime for another. They were strangers in a strange land; they were refugees seeking shelter and safety.

The Wise Men or magicians arrived at Herod’s door seeking to know where was the baby who was born King of the Jews? They had seen a star in the East and happened across Herod’s palace. This posed a problem for Herod as he was the self-proclaimed King of the Jews – no baby was going to take that from him! So he sent the Magi to Bethlehem to find the baby and pay homage to him. They were to return to the palace so Herod could go and pay homage himself. Herod wanted the baby dead – imagine a newborn with a price on his head!

So Jesus grew up in the shadow of fear. His parents did their best to keep him safe, but he was a very special boy – he was God’s earthly son. He was in danger.

Imagine for a moment, being in Joseph’s position. Your young wife has given birth and you cannot stay in the barn. You must head somewhere – knowing you can’t go back where you came from. So you head for Egypt, to another violent regime that was only marginally safer because Herod was not there.

Imagine not knowing where to go? Not knowing where was safe? Arriving in a country where you didn’t speak the language or know the customs? Everything you have you carry with you and you don’t dare think of what you left back home. Because that land you knew no longer exists…you don’t have a home.

The definition of refugee is this “a person who has been forced to leave their country in order to escape war, persecution or natural disaster”.

For the 10,000 refugees coming to Canada, let us be welcoming and remember that for many of us, Canada is a second home. We, or our families, came from somewhere else. Perhaps, like my parents, you came to Canada for a better life. Perhaps you too were refugees from a war-torn area of the world.

Regardless of where you come from, Canada is now home. I was born here, from Immigrant parents, and have only ever known life in a free country. I’ve taken it for granted all my life. And now this incredible country will be welcoming strangers from a strange land. Spiritually speaking, it makes the story of Mary, Joseph and the Baby Jesus that much more poignant – that much more real.

When we hear hateful and hurtful things about the refugees coming here, let us remember that one we know as sent from God – and his humble beginnings. Let us respond with love.

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