Monday 11 January 2021.
THE UNTOLD CHRISTMAS STORY
By: Ong Hwee Soo
The Christmas spirit is still in the air. Orthodox Christians in Central Europe and some African nations celebrated Christmas just last Thursday, 7 January, following the Julian Calendar. For us at PBC, we celebrated our first Virtual Christmas, a fortnight ago, 25th December, following the Gregorian Calendar. All around the world where Christmas was celebrated, either in December or January, whether online or onsite, millions including non-Christians would have heard of the stories of a virgin teenage girl, a carpenter, a manger, shepherds, angels, wisemen (Persian magi/kings), the star of Bethlehem and the like.
But tucked in just three verses is an incident that rarely gets highlighted during Christmas time:
13 Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” 14 And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt 15 and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfil what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”
In the Nativity narrative in the Matthew Gospel, after the popular story of the wisemen who presented gifts to baby Jesus, we read that Jesus was a refugee. When the wisemen did not return to Jerusalem as instructed by King Herod to report the whereabouts of the newborn ‘King of the Jews’, whom the then king of Judea perceived as a potential threat to his own throne, Herod was furious and decreed the murder of all baby boys under the age of two in the town of Bethlehem. However, before the edict was enforced, the child’s father, Joseph the carpenter, was warned in a dream of the imminent threat to his infant’s life and was told to take baby Jesus and his mother and flee to Egypt. Under cover of night, Joseph escaped with Mary and Jesus before Herod’s soldiers came to execute all the Bethlehem baby boys. Father, mother and child remained in Egypt until Herod died and Joseph was instructed by an angel to return to Israel.
Return they did, but tucked in another three verses is another untold story: Jesus’ family were internally displaced. Matthew 2:21-23
21 And he rose and took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there, and being warned in a dream he withdrew to the district of Galilee. 23 And he went and lived in a city called Nazareth, so that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled, that he would be called a Nazarene.
On arrival back in Israel, when Joseph heard that Archelaus had succeeded his father, Herod as king of Judea, he was fearful of returning to Jesus’ birthplace, Bethlehem as Archelaus was reputed to be a notoriously wicked man. Again, as warned in a dream, Joseph migrated to Nazareth instead.
From the main media as well as social media, we are all aware of the plight of refugees, elsewhere and in our own country. According to UNHCR’s definition, “A refugee is someone who owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable to or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself for the protection of that country.” Internally Displaced People has been defined as “those who have been displaced from their places of birth and/or residence and forced to relocate to another part of the country.” By all definitions, Jesus and His earthly family were refugees and internally displaced people.
During the escape to Egypt, the infant Jesus experienced with his earthly parents the tragic throes of refugees and displaced people, marked by discomfort, dread and trepidation. In our present times, millions of individuals and families are forced to flee like Jesus and his family.
In the faces of the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick and the prisoner, we are challenged to see the face of Jesus who beckons us to help (Matthew 25:35-40). If we recognise Christ in those faces, let us rise to meet His need in them. Refugees and displaced people offer us great opportunity to meet, love and serve Christ the Lord.
Here, let me commend PBC Youth Ministry and College-University Group for their joint GiveBack Project, in rendering the recent Christmas as season of giving back to those in need instead of usually receiving gifts. Through their youthful initiative they raised funds for a needy refugee school in Cheras. With the money collected, they purchased personalized age-gender-appropriate ‘Care Packages’ for forty-one Myanmarese refugee children ages four to ten, some of whom were located in Temerloh. Unbeknown to them, the cash love-gift our youths presented to the Principal was sufficient to fully settle the school’s outstanding three-months rental arrears.
Our youths have opened a way for our church to be engaged in migrant ministry in a bigger way. To quote Pastor Bill Wilson of MetroWorld Child Ministry, “Big Doors open on Small Hinges.”
Let’s Live the Life, Realizing Opportunities.
Heavenly Father, as we begin this new year, help us realize opportunities to reach out and minister to the needy migrants in our midst. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
圣诞气息依然弥漫。中欧和一些非洲国家的东正教徒在上周四，也就是1月7日，按照儒略历(Julian Calendar)庆祝圣诞节。我们班底浸信会两周前依据格里戈里历(Gregorian Calendar)于12月25日庆祝了我们的第一个虚拟圣诞节。在世界各地庆祝圣诞节的地方，无论是12月或1月，无论是在网上还是在现场，数百万人(包括非基督徒)都会听说过童贞女、木匠、马槽、牧羊人、天使、博士(波斯术士/国王)、伯利恒之星等的故事。
在马太福音的耶稣降生叙述中，在博士向婴儿耶稣献礼物的热门故事之后，我们看到耶稣是一名难民。当博士没有按照希律王的指示返回耶路撒冷报告新生的 “犹太人之王” 的下落时，这位当时的犹太国王认为他对自己的王位构成了潜在的威胁；希律王勃然大怒，下令屠杀伯利恒小镇上所有两岁以下的男婴。然而，在法令执行之前，孩子的父亲，木匠约瑟，在梦中被警告他的婴儿的生命受到迫在眉睫的威胁，并被告知带着婴儿耶稣和他的母亲逃往埃及。约瑟在夜幕的掩护下，在希律王的士兵前来屠杀所有伯利恒男婴之前，与马利亚和耶稣一起逃走了。父亲、母亲和孩子一直留在埃及，直到希律王死了，天使指示约瑟返回以色列。
从主要媒体和社交媒体上，我们都知道难民的困境，无论是在其他地方还是在我们自己的国家。根据难民署（UNHCR）的定义，“难民是指有充分理由害怕因种族、宗教、国籍、特定社会团体成员身份或政治见解而受到迫害，身处其国籍以外的国家，不能或由于这种恐惧而不愿为保护该国服务的人。” 国内流离失所者被定义为 “那些已离开出生地和/或居住地，被迫迁往该国另一个地区的人”。根据所有的定义，耶稣和祂在世上的家人都是难民和国内流离失所的人。
在这里，我要表扬班底浸信会青年部和大学团契联办的 “回馈计划”，把最近的圣诞节作为回馈有需要的人的季节，而不是一般接收礼物的季节。通过他们年轻的积极主动，他们为蕉赖一所贫穷的难民学校筹集了资金。他们用筹集到的钱为四十一名四岁至十岁的缅甸难民儿童购买了个人化、适合年龄和性别的 “照料配套”，其中一些儿童被安置在淡马鲁。他们并不知道，我们的青年给校长的现金爱心礼物足以全额清偿学校拖欠的三个月租金。
我们的年轻人为我们的教会开辟了一条更广泛地参与移民事工的途径。引用 “大都会国际儿童事工”（MetroWorld Child Ministry）的比尔·威尔逊牧师所说：“大门在小铰链上打开。”