Christmas Letter – 2016
“Was Jesus a refugee?” One of our small group members on Sunday asked. It seemed that the member was intrigued by the Advent devotional book we have been using – A Different Kind of Christmas. We have many images of Jesus – Jesus our Shepherd, Jesus our Savior, and Jesus our Miracle Worker … etc. But it may sound odd to hear Jesus as a refugee. In Matthew 2:13, we read that an angel of God appears to Joseph warning him to escape to Egypt with his family and stay there, “for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.” There was “weeping and great mourning” in the cities as Herod ordered to massacre all the boys in Bethlehem in its vicinity who were two years old and under. So, until Herod died, Joseph, Mary, and Jesus lived in Egypt as refugees.
People still live as refugees for many reasons today. While we often quickly condemn them as “illegal,” many of them escape their countries in pursuit of freedom, safety, or opportunity. In the U.S. there are as many as 11.4 million undocumented immigrants who constantly live with fear of being deported back to their countries where they often face persecution or even execution in some cases. In response, many church have recently started offering their places as “sanctuary” where the immigrants at risk of deportation could stay. For example, Arch Street United Methodist Church in Philadelphia provides sanctuary for Javier Flores who is about to be separated from his wife and three children. Rev. Robin Hynicka, the senior pastor of Arch, says, “For us, we feel it’s a moral obligation to keep families together.” (The Washington Post, Dec 9)
Many might argue that the church needs to be separated from the politics. I have once debated with another pastor who argued, “Churches should not involve with the political or social issues. We need to provide spiritual care to people.” My response was, “How can we provide our spiritual care for people when they suffer politically, socially, or economically?” We do not tell people starving on streets saying, “If you only believe in Jesus, he will save you.” A more faithful follower of Christ is likely to give bread and water first to the person before sharing the gospel of Christ. As a matter of fact, Jesus was crucified on the cross for us not just as our Savior who bore our sins, but also as a political rebel who revolted against the power of the Roman Empire. His movement of faith, love, mercy, and forgiveness was deemed as dangerous to his government and religion.
In this Christmas season, sanctuary movement makes me think about our identity as church – who we are, what we believe, and what we practice. I once had a parishioner who came to tell me, “When people come to the church, they are often not in their best shape.” I agreed with her that many of us come to the church as if a refugee seeks comfort and safety. I am sure that when you were going through some hardships in your life, we felt deeply cared for by the people in the church who shared the love of Christ with you. As we encounter the baby Jesus who sleeps in the manger silently in the midst of turmoil and violence, I believe that we are invited to proclaim “Shalom” in this world when people are anxious and fearful. Emmanuel – God is with us. I sincerely pray that you would witness the baby Jesus born in your family, work, and community who bring the message of peace and joy today.
Pastor Bob Jon