The lection for the first Sunday after Christmas: Isaiah 63:7-9, Psalm 148, Hebrews 2:10-18 and Matthew 2:13-2
The presents have been opened, the turkey has been reduced to leftovers, and the guests have all gone home. Christmas Day has come and gone, and we are now looking ahead to the celebration of Epiphany, the commemoration of the arrival of the Magi to pay their respects to Jesus. We are not sure of their starting location, but their journey to Bethlehem was long and the terrain was at times treacherous. They had no modern GPS, only the star to guide them. But that was all they needed.
We all know what happened after they left Bethlehem. The Magi had outwitted Herod by not returning to his palace and telling him the location of the newborn King. This enraged Herod, who devised a plan to eliminate his competition. The angel of God warned Joseph in a dream of Herod’s plot to find Jesus and kill Him. The angel told him to take Mary and Jesus to Egypt. They fled quickly in the middle of the night, with no time for Joseph to gather together tools to provide for the family with his carpentry trade. Even then, God provided for them: the Magi’s valuable gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh could be sold or traded for food, shelter, and daily needs. The road they travelled was well used but not without risk for the family. Joseph had saved Jesus from a mass killing of male children under the age of two. If there is one single example of how terrifying Herod was, it has to be this heartbreaking image of babies being torn from their mothers’ arms and murdered. The family was only safe to return home after Joseph was told in another dream that Herod had died, once again taking a treacherous journey on foot.
Think about the contemporary parallel to this gospel. Mary and Joseph were literally no different than today’s refugees; they were escaping a politically-ordered mass genocide. But rather than entering peacefully, as Mary and Joseph into Egypt, people are being tear-gassed at the borders. Families are separated and children are put into cages, and yes, some have died. A church nativity scene was recently in the news for its depiction of Mary and Joseph in separate cages, and in a third cage, still in his manger, Baby Jesus. The news is full of stories of refugees, fleeing terrors at home. Some countries, such as Canada, welcome them and help them rebuild their lives; other countries despise them and tear apart their families.
Because He came in human form, Jesus is our brother. We belong to a family, and every person in the world is His brother. He is not ashamed to call us His brothers and sisters, but He must be very ashamed of the way we humans treat each other. Today’s refugee families, displaced by war and politics, are no different than the Holy Family when they fled the politically ordered murder of their son. No other passage in the Bible is as strong in its message that Jesus can identify with the refugees of the world.
Furthermore, because He came in human form, He suffered, as all humans do. Not only as refugees and those facing poverty and persecution, but as every one of us suffers. Some suffer from a physical aliment, others from emotional and mental point of view. Some are bullied, others are disrespected.
Today’s reading from the book of Hebrews tells us that Jesus was made perfect through suffering. This does not mean that Jesus needed improvement, but, rather, He was completed – He took human form, suffered on our behalf, and made a complete atonement for our sins. Suffering is not a goal, but a way to God. He suffered for us, to make a future in Heaven for us. He suffered for hours to save us from suffering for eternity. Today’s passage gives us great comfort: because He suffered when He was tested and tried, He is able to help us when we find ourselves in the same position.
We are called to be like Him, and to love our neighbours as ourselves, In fact, it has been God’s will since the Old Testament times, when it was written in Leviticus 19:33-34: “When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt.” And, as today’s readings remind us, so were Mary, Joseph and Jesus.
It is a Christian action to feed and clothe those less fortunate, to offer them shelter, medical care and comfort. As we read in Matthew 25: 35-40, ‘For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
May Christian generosity toward others be year-round, not just during the Christmas season. And as we are directed in Hebrews 13:1-2, may we keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters, remembering to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.