There are reasons to fear what is happening in our world. Democracy seems to be at growing risk. Violence is producing more and more refugees even as our world becomes more and more afraid of them (but what power do refugees really have to make us afraid)? The United States government is partially shut down over a wall – a wall to keep refuges out. Christians too are hesitant about, or resistant to, welcoming refugees who are fleeing for their lives. It seems that an anti- immigrant sentiment is growing around the world, including in Canada. Why are we so afraid?
Surely the Christmas story offers prospective and hope to this fear of refugees. The basic story line of Jesus has him being born in a stable in Bethlehem to poor parents, and almost immediately becoming a refugee in Egypt. Here are my thoughts.
What if – what if Egypt had built a border wall (I suppose if they could build pyramids, they could build a wall), or had met Joseph and Mary and Jesus with chariots and spears drawn. What if Egypt had said a loud “no” to this Jewish family, and sent they back into the cruel arms of King Herod? Would Jesus even have survived? Would there even be any “Christians” today?
What if – what if our Canadian government had said “no” to those fleeing for their lives from Russia in the 1920’s? I would not be here then. I am a Russian Mennonite whose father fled Siberia and was welcomed by Canada in 1927. Three of my uncles didn’t make it and were murdered. What if our government had closed its doors to my family, as it did to that ship of Jewish refugees in the 1940’s? We were, after all, German speaking – an enemy people, and we were from a Communist country, another enemy people. And we were Mennonites, a strange – and pacifist – sect of Christians. Would any of us who have a Russian Mennonite background even be here today?
What if – what if the indigenous peoples of North America had said “no” to us settler peoples, had not allowed us in. But how could they have known that we “whites” wouldn’t be satisfied with co-existence and partnership. How could they have known that many would be hell bent on control and domination. Would any of us “whites” even be here now if our earliest peoples had said “no” to us?
But there is a bigger what if. The above what ifs assume that we humans can control what happens in our world – the strong supposedly protecting those who are deemed weaker, but really solidifying their own power. The story of the birth of Jesus declares that God enters our world with vulnerability and love – a power far greater than all the armies and walls of the world. A few wise men, foreigners even if not refugees, thwart power mad Herod. The Egyptians (wouldn’t they have seen Jews as enemies?) did offer sanctuary to this Jewish family. God was protecting the vulnerable.
I confess that I do carry anxieties and fear about what is happening politically in the United States and here in Ontario. But I want to re-orient my spirit to the good news of the birth of Jesus – the Messiah. I want to hear the angels singing “Do not be afraid.” What if I would put my trust in God’s powerful love.