So continues the story of Jesus as told in Matthew’s Gospel. Luke’s account of a manger in Bethlehem and angel-summoned shepherds will have been heard in carol and crib services in our churches throughout December. In the glow of the candle-light and the glitter of the Christmas tree decorations however it is easy to forget what a grim world it was that hosted this birth. Israel then was ruled by Herod the Great, an unjust tyrant appointed by the Romans, whose empire reigned supreme. Rebellions by those who sought to get rid of this oppressive rule were dealt with quickly and savagely. New-born infants that seemed to threaten Herod’s power were, Matthew’s Gospel tells us, murdered. Hence Mary and Joseph’s flight to Egypt. Jesus’ early life was as a refugee in a foreign land. And he wasn’t the only one, either then or now.
In her Christmas Eve Thought for the Day on BBC Radio 4, the Revd Lucy Winkett shared a staggering statistic. Apparently today a billion people live in a country they were not born in. Admittedly many of these do so willingly – but many do not, fleeing warfare and humanitarian crises in Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan and elsewhere. And half of these refugees are children, with thousands taking flight without the protection of parents or other family members. And whilst over a million refugees have crossed into Europe during the last few years, most of those on the move seek safety in nearby, usually similarly developing countries or within their own country’s borders. This means that the communities welcoming the most refugees are often struggling to survive themselves.
At this time of year, Christmas and Epiphany, we marvel that it was into this darkest of worlds, this messiest of human existence, that God’s love broke in. God got involved, in an immediate and tangible way, to transform and save the world. In the darkness of night God’s majestic glory became vulnerable humanity – so that we might know God once more, turn to him again, and believe in his overwhelming love.
And that majestic glory, that all-transforming love of God still insists on breaking through. But now we see it in the work of the likes of The Harbour Project in Swindon, giving friendship, advice and hope to refugees and asylum seekers across the town; and City of Sanctuary, helping build a culture of welcome, inclusion and support for everyone in Swindon, with a focus on those seeking sanctuary.
I’m not sure how many refugees or asylum seekers live here in Bassett, how many amongst us are seeking sanctuary. But we do our part every time we welcome the stranger, support the struggling, and offer the hand of friendship to those who are far from home.
No wonder the angels sang!
Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favours!
Canon Jane Curtis
An angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Get up, 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.’ Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod.…