I am hopeful the title of this blog caught your attention. I want to invite us as Christians to connect two seemingly disparate events: the journeys of Mary and Joseph first to Bethlehem and then on to Egypt with the newborn baby Jesus and the massive refugee tragedy of Aleppo.
Let’s look first at Biblical record. Luke reports, “Since Joseph belonged to David’s house and family line, he went up from the city of Nazareth in Galilee to David’s city, called Bethlehem, in Judea. He went to be enrolled together with Mary, who was promised to him in marriage and who was pregnant” (Luke 2:4-5).
We usually take the journey to Bethlehem for granted. We envision a pastoral scene with a loving, tenderly caring husband and a beautifully blue-robed clad pregnant lady riding on a donkey. The scene is virtually bucolic. The reality is radically different.
The distance from Nazareth to Bethlehem is roughly 69 miles as the crow flies. In all probability they were both walking. (Scholars debate whether Joseph as an artisan would have had enough financial resources to afford a donkey.) The country was run by a conquering foreign government, i.e. the Roman Empire. Oppression as well as fear from thugs and bandits was part of everyday reality. You get the drift. The journey to Bethlehem is closer to walking from Aleppo, Syria to the border and then catching a bus to the Greek seaport near the Island of Lesbos (the center for refugee resettlement). Modern scenes of refugees escaping violence and persecution are closer to the truth.
This is especially so when yoked to what is called by biblical scholars simply “The Flight to Egypt.” Rembrandt’s moving painting of the scene only begins to capture the human tragedy. Roll the terse biblical description around in mind. Matthew writes: “Joseph got up and, during the night, took the child and his mother to Egypt. He stayed there until Herod died” (Matthew 2:14-15). What follows is the story of the murder of the innocents (that is the two year old land younger children in the region). Note carefully that Joseph led the Holy Family on their flight at night (verse 14). This is no gentle journey but a scene of fleeing in terror.
Watching the news I cannot help but think that the flight of refugees from Aleppo in the evening news which parades before us is similar. Faithfulness and deep spirituality should well lead us to see the baby Jesus carried by his mother, her back bent low, on the hard scrabble trail to safety. Peering through the barbed wire, a two year Jesus looks back at us.
It is incumbent on those of us who claim the title Christian to remember that the Savior, Jesus Christ our Lord, started his worldly life as a homeless refugee. We sing “Come let us adore him” (Hymn No. 234, “O Come, All Ye Faithful,” The United Methodist Hymnal). This is good and proper. We should sing with full-throated joy! But to fully be the faithful who come, we must see him as he is and not a figure in a beautifully carved crèche scene. He is the baby on the dusty road. He is the child behind the barbed wire fence. His parents are the ones desperately searching for milk and food for their son.
I confess, when I put it all together, that there is more. When I really understand that it is the Holy Family which seeks to flee Aleppo, I realize God is calling me to reach out, even though I don’t know how. I am overwhelmed with a sense of frustration, sadness and hopelessness. Yet it is here that God in Christ through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit most causes me to pray and nudges me to reach out of all who are homeless and/or refugees. “O Come, All Ye Faithful” indeed.