The Rest of the Story - Reflections on the Holy Family
and Jesus as a Refugee and Asylum Seeker
On the one hand, having both Christmas Day and New Year’s Day on Sundays was a special treat this year. On the other hand, combined with closing the cathedral between Christmas and New Year’s, this schedule meant that we missed not only some significant Saint’s Days (St. Stephen, the first deacon and St. John, the author of the fourth gospel), but also the story of what happened next, even beyond the circumcision and naming of Jesus which we hear about on January 1.
Like the season of Christmas itself, Christmas pageants usually end with the coming of the Wise Men which we will celebrate at our 12:10 service for the Epiphany on Friday. Though the scriptures aren’t clear that they were men or kings (or that there were three of them), the scriptures do show that their visit triggered a violent reaction from King Herod, resulting in the killing of every male child under two years old (traditionally known as "the Slaughter of the Holy Innocents") which the Jesus escaped when his family became refugees and asylum seekers, fleeing to Egypt in the middle of the night.
For Jesus, what is known as "the Flight into Egypt" did three things: First, it solidified part of Jesus’ identity that would be later confirmed on the mount of the Transfiguration and the mount of the Beatitudes, that of Jesus as the second Moses. Second, the return from Egypt to Nazareth brought the beginning of Jesus’ ministry in the area around the Sea of Galilee, where he was free from the immediate influence of the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem and where he would be able to find people receptive to his message and willing to become his disciples. Third, on a very practical level, time in Egypt gave Jesus the experience of living as a runaway political refugee in a foreign country during his formative years. This provided him with an understanding of the wider, non-Jewish world, an experience of poverty, a respect for diversity, an understanding of new languages and cultures, and a compassion for those who were different and outside of the mainstream. Today, with immigration as such a hot button, it is important to remember that as a young boy Jesus was a refugee, an asylum seeker, and an illegal immigrant. He was a child of illegal immigrants whose parents snuck him over the border by night. This experience would place a profound mark on both Jesus’ ministry and the church that would bear his name. With all this in mind, it becomes clear the flight into Egypt was an extremely important part of Jesus’ early life. In his efforts to destroy Jesus, Herod unwittingly not only insured his survival and success but the survival and success of Christianity itself. In his efforts to stop Christmas once and for all, Herod insured that it would go on thousands of years after he was gone.
The Slaughter of the Holy Innocents and the Flight into Egypt tell us that the Christmas story is far grittier and more interesting than Christmas Cards and letters might suggest. They tell us also tell us that God’s power to transform darkness into light is greater and that Christmas is far more relevant and real than we might have imagined before. They also tell us who we are called to be and what we are called to do as a church.