“So was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘Out of Egypt I called my son.’” (Matthew 2:15)
What consolation it must be to know that Christ was a refugee. That the Christ child knows what it is like to be born in a place not his own to a world that did not value his humanity and dignity. To know the grief and heaviness of what it is like to leave behind your family, your culture, and enter a space of liminality. A place where the faces are not familiar, and the tongue is different. Imagine the fear of being followed, the pain of loss, and the grief of things hoped for in a place that once was your home.
Today, innocent lives are caught in the middle of political wars waged for power and bred out of hate. They are no different than the maddening actions of Herod at Christ’s birth. Herod’s obsessive desire led him to spread rhetoric that sought to disenfranchise and led to murder. He could not bear the thought of a challenge to his reign. He is now known for devastating families and slaughtering infants to ensure control. For the dead, he did not mourn. He did not weep.
It was and is the people who must live with the trauma. For them, there is no time to stop and reflect. There is no time to grieve as they search for refuge. Jesus’s family made it out of Herod’s reach before his life could be taken. Fortunately, they were not bused to an undisclosed location under false pretenses to make a tasteless political point. But Jesus was indeed a victim of cruel politics and heartless leadership.
This Advent, it is not enough to hear the stories and dream of better endings. It is not enough to say a little prayer and remain detached. It is not enough to witness the pain of refugees, asylum seekers, and those left behind. It is not enough to give yourself over to hopelessness disguised as numbness. It is not enough to light our candles on Christmas Eve if we are not willing to vote, advocate, and hope.
I pray that the light from our candles will be seen as the Holy Spirit’s invitation for us to be moved toward compassion. I pray that this Advent, instead of hearts hardening and borders closing, we seek to find foolish hope in a child who knows the plight of a refugee. May we see Christ’s face in Texas detention centers and hear Emmanuel’s voice in the cries of Haitian babies.
Joy Martinez-Marshall is pastor of First Baptist Church in Lincoln, Nebraska. The church also hosts the Lincoln Karen Baptist Church for refugees and immigrants from Myanmar (formerly Burma).