How wonderful is the Christmas story that tells of angels from above, shepherds from the fields, and wise ones from the East beholding the Divine Infant Jesus being held in the arms of the young mother Mary with Joseph dutifully looking on. It is a vision that we cherish, and we should. It truly heralds good news and tidings of great joy.
But this Divine delivery also announces the arrival of the Kingdom of God – a kingdom that Mary for-shadowed with her Magnificat Manifesto – one in which the power-players of the day would be toppled from their thrones, and the poor and lowly would be raised up in favor over the rich and influential. This was not such good news for the tyranny brokers of the time, nor of our own time.
It is within this tension that Jesus is born under threat from Herod that causes the holy family to flee the Bethlehem birthplace for the sanctuary land of Egypt. Jesus’ life began as a refugee on the run from political persecution and his life would continue at odds with state and religious power until the end.
According to the latest figures from the United Nations Refugee Agency, there are currently 26.4 million refugees in the world, half of whom are under the age of 18. Additionally, there are another 54 million people that have been “forcibly displaced because of persecution, conflict, violence, and events seriously disturbing public order.” This brings the current number of (internally or externally) displaced people seeking safe harbor to a staggering 84. 4 million worldwide.
As startling as these numbers are, the displacement of people is nothing new. As Valarie Kaur points out in her outstanding book titled: SEE NO STRANGER, right here in California more Native people were victims of genocide and displacement than anywhere in the United States. The first governor of California armed local militias and sanctioned the extinction of all indigenous peoples. Scalp bounties were posted. Men women, and children were hunted like animals. In just 27 years between 1846 to 1873, the indigenous population fell from 150,000 to just 30,000, making the California genocide the most documented genocide in North America. Most of those who survived were displaced from their land and forced onto reservations. This is an atrocity that remains to be reckoned with.
On a global scale today, we don’t have to look only to Syria, Venezuela, Afghanistan, South Sudan, or Myanmar to see the evidence of displaced people. We need look no further than our own city streets. A few weeks ago, when we came to St. Mary’s to get our Christmas tree, we stopped and engaged with two homeless brothers within three blocks just down Harris Grade Road from the church. And each time, we encountered the refugee Jesus – the same Jesus that long ago put us notice that the poor will always be among us. And I take “among us” to mean our family – our band of brothers and sisters.
But other than the tyranny of political conflict, economic unsettlement, and persecution, there is often a more personal and intimate oppression that we can suffer. The tyranny of addiction, the silent struggle of mental health challenges, the bruising of domestic violence, the persecution of our LGBTQ sisters and brothers, and victims of discrimination due to racism, sexism, and ageism. Many of our band of family members are desperately searching for safe harbor – a sanctuary space, to find a soft landing where healing and rejuvenation can take place.
Knowing Fr. Michael as I do, I know that St. Mary’s is such a place. Just like there are sanctuary cites, towns, and churches around the nation, so is this space one of welcoming to those seeking safe refuge. In offering such space of love that bears the name of the Holy Refugee Mother Mary, we are welcoming every person that comes to this doorstep as those who represent the displaced peoples of the world. We are welcoming Jesus himself.
In recovery circles, we say that you cannot give away what you do not possess. We all have work to do. We must first do our own healing work in order to be able to offer ourselves authentically to others.
So, what are you fleeing from in your own life? What is it that you need safe harbor from? What needs healing? Where is the sanctuary space where your soul can be kept safe and warm until the time you hear the voice that says you are now safe to continue your journey to Nazareth, no longer a band on the run.
Find your healing place. Find your North Star. Then you can begin. Then we can help each other heal. This is our work.
On this ninth day of Christmas, I want to close with a poem from Howard Thurman.
It’s called the The Work of Christmas.
When the song of the angels is stilled, When the star in the sky is gone, When the kings and princes are home, When the shepherds are back with their flock, The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost, To heal the broken, To feed the hungry, To release the prisoner, To rebuild the nations, To bring peace among brothers, To make music in the heart.