Summit Presbyterian Church December 30, 2007
Delivered by Jim Eby Another Refugee Matthew 2:13-23
In the lectionary passage read when we celebrate Epiphany and the arrival of the magi, we hear that verse, AWhen Herod the king heard (about the birth of the king of the Jews), he was troubled, and all
And sure enough, when Herod heard the word that a Messiah had been born in Bethlehem, he reacted in his normal murderous manner. He calmly rid himself of any possible threat by murdering all the baby boys in and around Bethlehem; and just to be sure he had accomplished his mission, he killed all of them up to the age of two. Matthew tells us that as the swords dripped with children=s blood, the air was filled with weeping, wailing and loud lamentations.
What a miserable scripture lesson for the Sunday after Christmas! The odor of evergreens still hangs in the air and the carols are still being sung.
It is important we understand the real story of Christmas is one in which good and evil are both shown for what they are. That is the kind of world we live in -- a cruel world where crime, poverty, drug-addiction, gang warfare, hunger, homelessness, discrimination for the wrong reasons and a host of evils threaten to overwhelm society.
This is the world after September 11th, where political figures run the risk of being assassinated. This is the world where individuals feel powerless and decide suicide bombing is the only way to bring a better world for their children.
It seems to me that being a refugee must be one of the hardest things to endure. If you are a refugee, you are among those who are the unwanted of the world, the rejects of a society which would like to keep you out of sight and out of mind. The refugee, like the rest of the "invisible poor," is kept at a distance, in a remote camp somewhere, where they are unable to disturb the slumbering conscience of the rest of us. Until they show up on the front pages of our newspaper from Afghanistan and Jordan and Gaza and Iran.
Perhaps that is why we need to read this passage that comes so closely on the heels of the wonder and joy of the birth, perhaps that is why we need to read this passage just the Sunday after Christmas Day, so we realize that Jesus was a refugee, a stranger in a strange land. In the midst of the joy of his family, there was the pain of being separated from aunts and uncles and cousins. Perhaps we need to read this passage so refugees, of whatever time and whatever country, will know that Jesus was also a refugee, he had experienced the pain and the frustration and the loneliness that they experience. It was precisely into their world of pain that Jesus came to be God's reconciling force. God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself. Throughout Jesus' ministry, he was found among the homeless and the unwanted of the world, the refugee and the orphan. And that is where Jesus expects his disciples to be found, proclaiming the message that God's kingdom has come and will come one day in it's fullness, in it's completeness. Jesus expects us to be at work in this "time being".
But we don't feel much like working, do we? Most of us just feel tired, a little relieved we made it through another Christmas.
The poet, W. H. Auden wrote a challenging Christmas Oratorio he titled, "FOR THE TIME BEING". Near the end of his piece, he has the Narrator describe the "time being" after Christmas this way:
"Well, so that is that. Now we must dismantle the tree, putting the decorations back into their cardboard boxes -- and carry them up to the attic. The holly and mistletoe must be taken down and burnt, and the children got ready for school. There are enough leftovers to do, warmed up for the rest of the week, not that we have much appetite, having drunk such a lot, stayed up late, attempted -- quite unsuccessfully -- to love all of our relatives and in general grossly over estimated our powers."[i]
After Christmas, we are stuck in "the time being". It is a difficult time, back into the routines and the same old monotonous chores. We don't like this time being because it is not a plateau and not a peak. The time being is the most trying time of all.
And it must have been that way for Joseph and Mary as they slowly and carefully made the journey to Egypt, to the land from which Moses had lead the children of God so many centuries before. It was in reverse, this time, as the young couple made their way from the land of milk and honey to the place where their ancestors made bricks without straw. They feared for their lives, and yet, they knew God was faithful.
Maybe we can feel closer to Mary and Joseph as they face the trials and tribulations of their journey. It's more like the way we live, isn't it? There are no magical stars, no angelic choirs, no wise men from the east and wide-eyed shepherds in our daily life. Like Mary and Joseph, we too find ourselves "alone on the vast expanse of the time being", but we also find this is the real test of faith. Any pagan can have heart warmed at Christmas, but after Christmas, in "the time being", we show our true colors.
It is when the festivities of Christmas are over that the true Christ comes! Christ is always attracted to the ordinary. His birth was in the midst of ordinary stuff, a manger the likes of which the majority of middle east peasant children through the centuries have been born. The shepherds were run-of-the-mill working people. Jesus called ordinary people as his first disciples: fishermen, tax-collectors and the like. Christmas, originally, was celebrated in January, rather than in December, in the ordinary month of January which is a time waiting to be filled with significance by the real Christ.
And so, as W. H. Auden continued in that section of his Oratorio, "In the meantime, there are bills to be paid, machines to keep in repair, irregular verbs to learn, the time being to redeem from insignificance."[ii]
When the times of pain, frustration and sorrow come in the new year, and they will surely come, we are strengthened in the conviction that in
There is a lovely child's legend about Jesus the Refugee. When Joseph and Mary and Jesus were on their way to Egypt, the story runs, as the evening came they found a cave in which to rest. It was very cold, so cold in fact, that the ground was white with hoarfrost. A little spider saw the baby Jesus, and he wished so much that he could do something for him to keep the baby warm. The spider decided to do the only thing he could do -- to spin his web across the entrance of the cave, to make a kind of curtain. It happened that a detachment of Herod's soldiers came along that night, looking for children to kill to carry out Herod's bloodthirsty orders. When they came to the cave, they were about to burst in and search it when their captain noticed the spider's web. It was covered with the white hoarfrost and stretched right across the entrance of the cave. The captain figured that no one could possibly be in the cave, or they would have torn the spider's web. So the soldiers passed on and left the holy family in peace. And that, so they say, is why to this day we put tinsel on our Christmas trees; for the glittering tinsel streamers stand for the spider's web, white with hoarfrost, which kept the little refugee Christ-child safe in the cave on his way to Egypt.[iii]
How will we weave a web of protection for some of Jesus' fellow-refugees? Will we work more closely with Cradle of Hope and Laurel House and Whosoever Gospel Mission and Habitat For Humanity and People of Hope who make their contribution to the homeless and the helpless?
Whatever the nature of our response, Jesus will be knocking at our door this coming year, perhaps in a way more poignant than he has ever done before. If we are going to have him be born in our lives, in our hearts, we may have to make room for someone else, too -- the one whom Jesus holds by the hand, dressed in the thin and tattered garments of a refugee.
My prayer is that we will be ready to say to him the words of that old hymn, "O come to my heart, Lord Jesus! There is room in my heart for Thee."
God, help us to see the refugee in our midst, who is not just another refugee, any more than Jesus was just another refugee. And once we have seen, help us to respond, so we may be faithful disciples of the one who came to claim us from the wilderness, from bondage and slavery. In his name we ask it. Amen.
[i]. The Collected Poetry of W. H. Auden, Random House, New York, p 465
[ii]. Don Wardlaw, To Egypt For The Time Being, Lectionary Homiletics, December, 1989, pp 29-30 (Auden, op cit, p 466.)
[iii]. Alvin C. Poarteous, Preaching to Suburban Captives, Valley Forge: Judson Press, 1979, as reprinted in Lectionary Homiletics, Vol IV, No 1, pp 33-35