(This message from last year is still urgent, sorry to say. I published it in the Pastor’s Column of our local Walla Walla Union Bulletin.)
When Mary gave birth to Jesus and Elizabeth gave birth to John the Baptist, Herod the Great was nearing the end of his tyrannical reign as the King of the Jews. It was the Romans who had granted him that title, not his people and definitely not their God. It was the Romans who had assisted Herod in violently seizing rule in Jerusalem. And it was to the Romans that he owed ultimate allegiance.
When Herod the Great died, not long after Jesus was born, a revolt broke out. Some Jewish leaders had seized the opportunity to fight to be free of Roman occupation. Rome quickly crushed them. Three legions of soldiers marched down from Roman-occupied Syria to assert their brutal dominance. We know that when they tore through Sepphoris, one of the centers of the revolt, they torched the town, crucified scores of rebels, enslaved everyone else they could get their hands on, and moved on to rub out the remaining pockets of the insurrection in the region.
Sepphoris is in Galilee, less than four miles from Nazareth – where Jesus grew up. This environment of tyranny and terror, then, surrounded the early life of our Savior.
During the ill-fated revolt, Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus were refugees in Egypt. They had fled while Herod was still alive. He had begun killing the newborn boys in Bethlehem, after having heard that the King of the Jews – the true King anointed by God – had been born there. As the Gospel of Matthew tells us, an angel had warned Joseph to take his family and leave his homeland for Egypt.
Egypt is a desert land, and it is also of course the land where the Jews had been enslaved in generations past. So thank God that the Egyptians of that time did not hate or fear these desperate foreigners who came with their foreign religion. They instead must have showed hospitality to the Holy Family.
As the Apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the Hebrews, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares” (Heb. 13:2). As the Law of Moses has it, “So you too must show love to foreigners, for you were once foreigners in the land of Egypt” (Deut. 10:19).
This is the kind of love that Jesus, this refugee child, brought to the world in its purest form. This is the kind of love that Jesus awakened in those around him, as he disclosed to them the God Who is the source of this love.
This is a fierce kind of love, which burns through fear and anger and hate. This is the kind of love we need in this day and age, in our town and nation: love for those foreigners who are fleeing from tyranny and terror, haunted by memories of wailing and loud lamentation, mothers weeping for their children who are no more.
If we choose to follow this love, we can have faith that God will provide the strength and the way forward.