Today families are fleeing Syria in much the same way the Holy Family fled Judea centuries ago.
Deacon, Detroit Conference
The events in Aleppo, Syria are heart breaking. The brutal tactics of the Syrian government– targeting hospitals and sources of food and water, engaging in door-to-door executions in Aleppo– have affected rebel combatant and civilian non-combatant alike. Social media, in real time, has broadcast final tear-filled farewells as residents of Aleppo face certain death. News coverage has reported on the evacuation of Aleppo under a fragile cease-fire.
Entering into the final days of Advent, the news from Aleppo has caused me to attend closely to the Christmas story found in the Gospel of Matthew. In that account, Magi from the east follow a star that they believe announces the birth of a new king. After finding the Christ-child, they decide not to return to King Herod, who had ordered them to report the location of the would-be-king. Paranoid and fearful, King Herod orders the execution of every male child under the age of two. Warned in a dream, Joseph receives divine instruction to flee with Mary and Jesus to Egypt.
The Gospel of Matthew is silent about both the trip to Egypt and the years the Holy Family’s resided there as refugees. Scholars surmise that they traveled overland along the ancient North Sinai road that connected Israel and Egypt. Along the road, they would have encountered several Roman forts and encampments. We know of at least two that have recently been unearthed by archaeologists. What happened in these encounters? Was the Holy Family interrogated by Roman soldiers? Were they searched; their belongings inspected? Did they have to pay fees or bribes? What did they have to do to gain access into Egypt?
The biblical text offers no clues about what happened when the Holy Family reached Egypt. Did Mary, Joseph, and Jesus have family or friends in Egypt they could turn to? Did the communities they settled in welcome them? Were they given the cold shoulder, experience prejudice and discrimination? Was it difficult to find work and make ends meet?
“Did Mary, Joseph, and Jesus have family or friends in Egypt they could turn to? Did the communities they settled in welcome them? Were they given the cold shoulder, experience prejudice and discrimination?”
Whatever the answers to these questions, Joseph, Mary, and Jesus were refugees. They had to flee their home because Rome, the super power of Jesus’ time, did nothing while Herod’s government carried out its atrocities. The geopolitical stability of the Pax Romana was considered of greater value then the lives of Jewish children. Thankfully there existed a handful of people who were willing to stand up for what was right. Magi, whose strategic misinformation provided cover for the Holy Family’s escape. The men, women, and children who welcomed Mary, Joseph, and Jesus in Egypt, who opened their homes and communities to this refugee family.
Perhaps like me, when you watch the coverage of Aleppo you wonder what you can possibly do to help. It seems so far away. You believe that you do not have access to the level of power and influence that is required for a real, long lasting solution. Such feelings, however, do not let us off the hook. The Gospel of Matthew reminds us that we have a choice to be silent, like Rome and its officials, or to act, like the Magi and the residents of Egypt who extended welcome.
What can we do today for the people of Aleppo?
We can pray. Pray for the families in Aleppo and Syria. Pray for global leaders. Pray for our elected officials here in the U.S. and Michigan.
We can work to create congregations and communities that truly are sanctuaries – spaces of welcome, compassion, and hope – for everyone, our neighbor down the street or our neighbor around the world, who is seeking refuge from violence, oppression, hate, and mistreatment. In terms of the current refugee crisis, this means educating ourselves about the refugee process, advocating for refugee resettlement, and inviting friends and family to join in our efforts.
We can give to UMCOR. UMCOR is working with partners on the ground in Aleppo and Syria. These partners are helping people evacuate and make their way to refugee camps in the region.
We can support refugee resettlement in Michigan. Samaritas is a state-wide, faith-based organization whose work includes resettling refugees from Syria and around the world. Your family, small group, UMW circle, can support Samaritas and other organizations who work with financial donations, material needed by refugee families, and need volunteers to provide hospitality, mentorship, and transportation for refugee families. Your congregation might consider sacrificially giving to support the cost of resettling refugee family.
As we prepare to celebrate Christmas, may we find courage, hope, and an invitation to action in the witness of those who welcomed the arrival of Jesus Christ.