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.