Well here we are after Christmas still celebrating the good news but this year our readings have Jesus becoming a refugee. Could you imagine if Egypt had passport controls in those days how difficult this trip would have been? But the holy family just rode on to the old nation of Egypt and found shelter and welcome.
Today the UN protects 10 million refugees and estimates there are 40 million refugees of various sorts in the world. One might ask how could this happen? Just like Jacob’s fear so many refugees fear for their safety in the place they have left; others are near starvation seeking help.
Back at the time of the birth of Christ there were many fears about the actions of rulers mostly allied with the imperial power of Rome and it was wise to lay low if you were from Galilee, a veritable hot bed of protest and the home of strong prophetic wanders who called for repentance and justice in the land.
- What does refugee status look like?
The new Red Cross refugee centre in Portsmouth England describe people as very grateful for help but are often destitute and need medical assistance – one refuge from Iran who had been disabled for 30 years was reunited with his wife and daughter. Another refugee from Algeria with a large family needed the small benefit he was receiving and he was informed that it would stop. He needed to reach out and the centre spoke for him and it was restored. A young woman from Ethiopia arrived with no English and needed support to learn the language and basics such as paying rent and taxes etc.
These are stories of the fortunate refugees who had help but we can see from their stories what refugees face. They needed to learn the ropes and seek help and accept it when offered.
Is the church like a refugee camp where we gather to learn a new language of love, hope, joy and peace, coupled with compassion and forgiveness? Where, like the holy family, we are welcomed because we are who we are. Where we find help to navigate in this complex web of society where it is so easy to fall between the cracks. Joseph was fortunate; he arrived with a popular trade. Who didn’t need a carpenter then as we need one now? We bring our history, our omnipresence in society and our compassionate availability. As refugees, we make our way in our society protected by law and by public acceptance.
We speak a language many in society around us do not know. We look beyond ourselves for meaning in the dark night of Bethlehem, on the lonely camel road to Egypt. We find our neighbours cordial and we try to work out issues and troubles with a sense of values that speak of compassion and realism. We are aware of the balance we need to be as refugees on a journey of faith and the changing social scene around us.
2. Like many refugees we hear the word it is safe to go home and leave the status of refugee but as a returnee to the homeland and in many ways like Joseph, we hear the challenge to go back to the world we knew and face the world as it is.
George Vanier had returned from World War One with an artificial leg but his life continued - teaching in the military college, becoming a general in WW2 and later our Governor General. He attended mass every day in those army and diplomatic years. He lived in a world of great violence and then political service to the country yet the church was his home and his wife Pauline was very generous and kind and his son Jean has become a spiritual guru for us in our time, and as one of the founders of L’Arche, Jean showed that what makes us human is not our intelligence, it is our compassion and interpersonal ability to relate to others.
So we, in our time, need to step out of our refugee status and go home and raise Christ in our hearts in ways that change our communities.
Christmas is about God loving the world and coming into the world to witness to us what divine love is. It is unconditional, humble and is available to us as we pray for it to saturate our life with the spirit of Christmas all year round and the joy, peace, love and hope of this season can be available to us every day.
So If we are going to make any resolutions in the new year maybe we would be wise to ask for the power to pray that we can take these Christian ways and offer them in our daily interaction with others and in our role as citizens and community persons that we struggle with others to build a fairer peaceful and caring world.
From his refugee experience Jesus grew up at home to become our saviour – coming as a child and then a young man speaking words of hope and healing.
May we carry the best gifts of Christmas in our hearts through the next year and grow in our spirit and in our hope.
Bless you in this task and may you have a blessed and happy new year.
Let us pray
Dearest Babe of Bethlehem, reassure us and be our guide and support in our lives as we live your hope and love in our time