Grace and peace to you from God, our Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ!
Advent is when we prepare to meet the Christ Child, the One who will come again and in great glory. He first came into a world where might was right and the vulnerable suffered; a world of occupation and oppression where many lived in fear and poverty. Welcomed by angels and shepherds, worshipped by Magi, the Child was nevertheless threatened and pursued by those in power. His father took him and his mother south to Egypt until it was safe to return home.
This darker side of the Christmas story is one on which we do not so often reflect. In our festive minds, refugees cannot compete with angels and shepherds, nor the displaced with those receiving fabulous gifts.
The Bible records that God’s people have always been on the move: ‘a wandering Aramean was my father.’ God’s people are still on the move. Many are fleeing from intolerable situations in their home countries, preferring to take to the uncertain waters of the Mediterranean Sea than to stay at home; many others must move when extremists target their communities; still more are forced by climate change to leave lands where their families have lived for generations. Like the Holy Family, they must escape in order to stay alive.
These days before Christmas offer time during which to reflect on the significance of the Incarnation: what does it mean that God took on human flesh and became ‘bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh’? What does it say about the dignity of the human condition ? To what responsibilities does it point us as the media reports on the mass movement of suffering people in so many parts of the world?
The work of small Methodist communities of Europe, both on the continental mainland and the Mediterranean islands, is inspirational: people have been welcoming refugees and migrants, rescuing them from the water and providing accommodation, food and clothing. They are observing that injunction in the Letter to the Hebrews to ‘not forget to entertain strangers, for by doing so some people have entertained angels without knowing it.’
It would, of course, be naïve not to recognize that there are those who are using mass migration as a cover for evil. But that must not deter us from reaching out to those in need, acknowledging that, inasmuch as we help one of the least of his little ones, we help the Lord.
As Christmas draws near, may the refugee Child of Bethlehem bless you with his peace and joy and may you know yet more blessing throughout 2016.