“Behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.’” (Matthew 2:13)
As Mary, Joseph, and a young Jesus are forced to flee their home for Egypt, I am reminded of the name that Gabriel gives Jesus in the first chapter of Matthew. Gabriel calls the child, Immanuel, which means, God with us.
As someone who has spent 30 years fighting for and with those seeking refuge and asylum, this image of the holy family running for their lives exemplifies the idea that God is with us in each of our stories. The experiences and sorrows of displacement, persecution, and oppression are not overlooked or dismissed by scripture. In fact, the trials faced today by millions of people who have been forced from their homes are integral parts of the story and legacy of Jesus.
Rather than ascending to a place of power through brute strength, wealth, or status, the life and mission of Jesus are enacted through humility, presence, and connection. As he is with all of us, we too are called to be with those who are suffering this Advent season and every day.
This isn’t mere guesswork either. Christ himself tells us just a few chapters later, in Matthew 25:
“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.’ … ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
If Christ is with and reflected in each of us, what does it mean to live in a way that acknowledges that refugee and immigrant families are the image bearers of god?
Christ’s image is reflected in the family seeking safety from violence.
Christ’s image is reflected in the person awaiting their asylum hearing.
Christ’s image is reflected in the unaccompanied migrant child who is anxious and afraid.
Christ’s image is reflected in the family who is acclimating to their new community.
Christ’s image is reflected in the parent carrying their weary child across deserts, through jungles, and across borders.
Christ’s image is reflected in those who have experienced injustice and been overlooked by those in power.
As we prepare for the celebration of Christmas, we must acknowledge the ways that “God with us” is made manifest in our neighbors near and far. We must recognize the inherent dignity that resides in every person and continue to use our voices and capabilities to ensure that others are able to live lives rooted in safety, security, and hope.
Rick Santos is president and CEO of Church World Service.