By Rev. Heather Blais, Rector
Did you know that Jesus began his life as a refugee?
A refugee is someone who flees their home due to a well-founded fear of persecution because of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.
While Jesus was a newborn infant whose only concern was being nursed, tended, and loved by his parents, there was someone else who perceived him as a great threat. King Herod took the Magi’s visit as an explicit sign that this newborn child was a threat to his kingdom. He could not ignore this threat. To ensure the child would not escape, King Herod ordered his men to kill every boy under the age of two in the vicinity of Bethlehem. King Herod's fear and hunger for power were so great, that he stole the lives of innocent children causing unimaginable pain and suffering for families throughout the region.
Mary and Joseph were spared that pain, at least until Jesus was a grown man. An angel appeared to Joseph in a dream and told him to take his family and flee for safety in Egypt. When it was safe again, the angel would return. While historians cannot quite agree whether the holy family's time in Egypt was a matter of months or years, the length of time may not really matter. Because that time lived as a refugee influenced the man Jesus would become. That period in his life shaped Jesus from an early age to appreciate the dangers of this life and to live his life with intentionality and purpose.
I imagine he never forgot that while he escaped death, many innocent children had died in Bethlehem. Those innocent lost lives shaped him into a compassionate, empathetic man who loved and lifted up the heart and faith of children as the example for all of us to live by. Living in a foreign land taught him what it meant to live life on the margins of society, and then even once he returned to Nazareth he must have felt like he was on the outside looking in. Living on the edge infused his ministry years later as he continued to hang out with the unlovable people, the unwanted social outcasts that everyone else pushes to the margins of society.
The story of Jesus' refugee experience serves as a stark reminder of our Christian responsibility to respond to today’s refugees. The Syrian Civil War began in 2011, and as of August 2015 more than 250,000 people have been killed. More than 11 million people have become Syrian refugees, 5.6 million of which are children. Some are fleeing to other parts of the country, displaced from their homes; many others are seeking refuge beyond war-torn Syria.[i]
While there is not a lot that we can do beyond offering our daily prayers, there are a few things. We can donate money to the UN Refugee Agency, to the World Food Program Syrian emergency fund, to Episcopal Relief and Development, and to NuDay Syria. There are also opportunities to advocate through the Episcopal Public Policy Network, to donate welcome kits through Jewish Family Services in Greater Springfield, and to volunteer to support new Americans in Greater Springfield.
God often calls us to take action by tugging on our hearts. Is God tugging on your heart?
While most of us here today have not experienced life as a refugee, we all have experienced taking refuge. We have experienced storms in our lives--whether they are a difficult relationship with someone we love; or maybe we have lost our job or clarity around our work and vocation; or someone we love is sick or dying. We all know what it is like to experience significant emotional stress and pain, yet have to keep our game face on out in that world. We come here to worship, to seek refuge from the storm. A place to turn when it feels like there is nowhere else to turn. For a place to be our messy, most broken selves and still be loved. In fact, loved and cherished all the more for our willingness to relinquish control and be vulnerable with God and his Church.
And that is the good news. The Lord is our refuge and our strength, our fortress in times of trouble. But God is not just here for us when we need refuge. God is a constant. Always with us, even when we are too consumed to notice it. Through it all God wants the very best for us. Remember what God once promised in Jeremiah?
For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope (29:11).This is the good news that God promised the people of Israel, and it is the good news God promises us in Christ.
I have heard that verse hundreds of times in my life. I can't tell you how many times someone would say it to me, or remind me the essence of it and my internal response was-yeah, yeah, yeah, I know. But one day in the still, small quiet during a time of distress I heard those words again. It was like a light bulb went off. What? You have plans for me, me? You want to give me a future with hope? Me? These words are for all of us. Words of hope whether you are a refugee like Jesus was as an infant or so many of our Syrian brothers and sisters are right now.Words of hope for us as we come before God seeking refuge in our times of trouble.
Can you sit in the stillness of that truth?
No matter why you may be here seeking refuge, no matter how messed up your life may get, God has planned a future for you with hope. Hope. That same hope that carried Mary and Joseph while they parented an infant Jesus as refugees in Egypt. That same hope that is sustaining so many Syrians as they flee for safety and protection. That same hope that will carry us, if we let it. Amen.
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