Advent is nearing its end and Christmas is upon us. The life of migrants and refugees, all who seek peace and freedom, is especially poignant these days. José F. Rodríguez Páez gives us his own deeply personal observation of what this means to us, as Christians moving from Advent into Christmas, giving us all reminder that even in the darkest days of displacement and fear, God is always with us. Read, comment, and share.
Rev. Dr. Linda E. Thomas – Professor of Theology and Anthropology, Chair of LSTC’s Diversity Committee, Editor – “We Talk. We Listen.”
Advent, which means “arrival” and precedes Christmas and then Epiphany, provides us with a very special opportunity to renew ourselves and prepare ourselves to receive the Christ and celebrate his presence in our midst. We know the prophecies about his birth, the announcement of the angel to Mary and Joseph, the census, the manger, the shepherds, the child wrapped in a manger and the visit of the Sages of the East; these are all important and well-known events in the Christian tradition. However, the Gospel according to Matthew tells us about a moment in the life of Jesus that we rarely hear about in our churches during Christmas, despite the fact that this story is very relevant for the Christian people of today. Matthew 2:13-14 says:
“When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.14 so he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt.”
Currently thousands of men, women, youth and children are immigrating to this country. They are forced to leave their countries in search of a better future. Just as Jesus and his family had to flee to Egypt, these people come to the United States fleeing from the Herod who oppresses them in many of our Central American countries. The lack of work and health and education services, as well as poverty, government corruption, social inequality and weakened economies are some of the powerful reasons that motivate people to venture on an extremely dangerous pilgrimage to try to cross the border in search of better jobs that allow them to offer a better quality of life to their loved ones.
The events that Matthew describes lead us to reflect on the fact that, in a literal sense, Jesus Christ began his life as a refugee and foreigner in another country.
As an immigrant, Jesus lived in his own flesh, together with his family, the harsh reality of having to leave his country and move to a strange land in search of safety and well-being. When we contemplate this aspect of Jesus’ life, then his name takes on a broader and extremely hopeful meaning for immigrants.
Amidst the atmosphere of hatred and persecution that currently prevails in the United States, against the immigrant community, it is extremely encouraging to know that even today, Jesus, the immigrant, is walking along with all the people who are pilgrims and foreigners. More comforting is knowing that Jesus Christ not only knows and understands our suffering as immigrants, but also suffers with and for us.
The presence of God and the certainty of this love and solidarity, as they are incarnated in our lives through Jesus Christ, strengthens us and gives us hope that a better day is coming for our people. On that day, our people will no longer be “invisible” or considered “illegal”. There will be just migratory laws that will treat all people with dignity and that will promote the unity of the family. The security of knowing that Emmanuel is walking by our side is what allows us to work hard to build communities where discrimination, racism and classism are not are tolerated in any of the spheres of government, society and church.
God says: “Do not be afraid, I am with you.”
I may raise my voice when discouragement, frustration or nostalgia robs us of the joy and desire to move on. Let us raise our eyes to heaven and seek to be enlightened with the comfort, healing and strength that Jesus Christ gives us. Remember that the light of hope, which emanated from the humble crib of Bethlehem, still continues to shine in our favor to give us true freedom, salvation and hope. This freedom is key. As Christians—and as Lutherans—we are called to live in the freedom of Christ. I believe that there is no contradiction between freedom and the call to service of the human being because each of these faculties is given by different natures. We live out God’s freedom by also living in service to one another.
With a loving voice, today Jesus continues to encourage us with the same words that the angel pronounced to Mary and Joseph. It tells us: “do not be afraid”. The churches, which proclaim Jesus the immigrant, the churches that serve the immigrants who come to our communities with love, are the ones who receive the words of Jesus “do not be afraid”, as a call to continue raising their prophetic voices against discrimination, racism and unjust laws who oppress our people. For me, Public Church means connecting with the community with the needs of community member.
The Public Church is in the street, wherever it is located. It means walking with the people, as Jesus walked with people. In this situation, it means walking with immigrants, as Jesus walks with them.
To be with those whom are often regarded as the classic “other,” who do not belong. Such constructions of the “other” may be based on legal grounds, physical appearance or race, (perceived) cultural and religious differences, class characteristics, or on any combination of these elements. Such constructions have been used politically, e.g., by the anti-immigrant movement, and express themselves in discriminatory practices, deteriorating inter-ethnic relations, and weakening of social cohesion in communities, cities, and states.
And it is for the sake of the least of these beloved ones, the least of these, to whom the cries of the baby Jesus summon us.
Having spent most of his career as an attorney, José F. Rodríguez Páez emigrated here to the US as a consequence of the political unrest in his native Venezuela. Currently, in addition to completing his divinity studies at The Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago he also works coordinating Hispanic ministries at San Andres/St. Andrew’s Lutheran Church in West Chicago, Illinois.