ADVENT, WEEK 2
(we often purposefully put the Scripture reading in the voice of a child. It helps us adults see the simplicity and power of ideas to which we have effectively insulated ourselves.
But this time, the reading is not fit for children. It is R rated. Trigger warnings: murder, genocide, terrorism, caravans, despotism, migration.)
Matthew 2:13-23 Common English Bible (CEB)
Escape to Egypt
13 When the magi had departed, an angel from the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up. Take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod will soon search for the child in order to kill him.” 14 Joseph got up and, during the night, took the child and his mother to Egypt. 15 He stayed there until Herod died. This fulfilled what the Lord had spoken through the prophet: I have called my son out of Egypt.[a]
Murder of the Bethlehem children
16 When Herod knew the magi had fooled him, he grew very angry. He sent soldiers to kill all the children in Bethlehem and in all the surrounding territory who were two years old and younger, according to the time that he had learned from the magi. 17 This fulfilled the word spoken through Jeremiah the prophet:
18 A voice was heard in Ramah,
weeping and much grieving.
Rachel weeping for her children,
and she did not want to be comforted,
because they were no more.[b]
Return from Egypt
19 After King Herod died, an angel from the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt. 20 “Get up,” the angel said, “and take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel. Those who were trying to kill the child are dead.” 21 Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus ruled over Judea in place of his father Herod, Joseph was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he went to the area of Galilee. 23 He settled in a city called Nazareth so that what was spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled: He will be called a Nazarene.
I grew up with him in Honduras…
Now I see that it was a terrible story, but not uncommon. There was poverty, yes. But that was everywhere. That was nothing. Having nothing was not so bad. We would work for what we could earn, and scrounge for what we couldn’t afford. We were often hungry, but we were usually happy.
As we got older, though, young boys like us started to be valuable to the people in power. They wanted us for the work that we could do, but even more they needed us to scare the people who loved us.
Both of his older brothers were “disappeared” when they were teenagers– their mom would never know for sure if they were alive or dead. They were just gone.
Then things got even more desperate. With his mom properly scared, the gangs started asking for money. It was extortion, of course, but to us it just looked like ‘survival’. One gang leader demanded what amounted to a quarter of her income. Another gang leader wanted a third of what was left. And all the while, the implicit threat hung in the air: her son could be next. So she kept funding these dangerous, murderous gangs (who we all knew, deep down, were just trying to survive themselves).
We boys did our best to stay out of trouble, to keep away from the streets. We would make lunches with our mothers in the mornings, and deliver them to the crews of men working in the forests, felling trees. It was a long walk, and all the way we would be hoping that they would put us to work in the afternoons. If we were lucky, they would let us help with the pit saws… well that’s what you would call them in Ustadas Unidas. For us, there were no pits– just scaffolding holding up the giant trees that were being converted into planks. We’d be on the lower end of an 8-foot saw, doing our best to steer the saw to keep it on the linas— on the lines. And we’d also try our best to help lift the saw up for the next stroke. Stroke, stroke, stroke. My shoulders are still strong from those stroke, stroke, strokes.
My friend was just a kid, really. None of us were as old as we felt at the time. My friend was a year younger than me… Old enough to know what’s up… old enough to see the danger… but young enough to want to hold his mama’s hand. He trusted her plan, but to me it seemed crazy.
Go north? Go *toward* the danger? Go to the country that sent all the toxic politics to Honduras, all of the guns and weapons of war, all of the soldiers, all the mercenaries that destabilized our government and left us with the chaos? It didn’t make any sense to me, but I never said anything but supportive words. He shouldn’t question his mother. I would never question his mother. His father would never question his mother. She thought about it a long time, and it was clear that she was fueled by the love for all three of her sons. Nobody should ever touch that kind of love or determination. No one should question it.
My friends and I knew the numbers, thought about them all the time. 1,578. One thousand, five hundred seventy-eight miles from our city to the closest port of entry in Brownsville, Texas. 1578 miles.
It seemed like an impossible distance. And when I made the trip years later, via truck and train and car and foot, with several of my friends, I found out it was *almost* impossible. We got lucky in the end, had enough money left to pay our way through a tunnel so we could avoid la migra– immigration. The word sounds so friendly, so welcoming. “Immigration.” But we knew we needed to fear la migra– the border patrol. They would do anything to stop us. Having a ticket through a tunnel meant we could avoid some of that trouble. We hid out for several hours, then laid down in the back of a mini van to get past the border zone. We got through. We got jobs, paid taxes, and made a life for ourselves. It wasn’t easy, or perfect, or safe. But it was way better than the life— or really, the death— ahead for us in Honduras.
My friend wasn’t so lucky. He told us later that he and his mother and father were out of money when they got to Brownsville. Out of options. So they did things the right way (the foolish way, I’d say!). They walked up to la migra at the border and requested asylum. They were allowed to cross, but then things got ugly. My friend’s mom and dad were arrested for crossing the border, and they were “separated” from my friend. Separated from their son. Then they were separated from each other. That’s the word they used– “separated”– but it must have taken a small army to pull my friend away from his mother and his father. Mom and dad were thrown in jails there outside Brownsville, and my friend was put into a detention center nearby. Then later he was flown to New Jersey to another detention facility. He was locked up because his parents tried to bring him to a better life.
They say “separated”, but it was more like “broken”. My friend was broken. His connection with his parents was shattered. All because of the heartless actions he suffered in “the land of the free and the home of the brave”. By a nation that calls itself “Christian”.
Those people who were so free and so brave and so religious were just scared, really. It was easy for us to see, growing up like we did. They were full of fear of these strangers doing something bad. So fearful that they couldn’t see us for who we were. We were the good guys, not the bad guys. We were not criminals; we were victims of crime. They were so fearful that they couldn’t see how we were only running from the problems that they created. So fearful that they couldn’t see that their actions were making their deepest fears materialize right before their eyes.
When you think about it, that separation and imprisonment and psychological warfare was the perfect recipe for cooking up a radicalized terrorist. But that’s not what happened to Jesus.
I mean, he turned radical, but not at all terrorist.
I was far away, so it was unclear to me what exactly happened to Jesus.
There was religion, for sure. But not like all flowery or pious or proper. His religion looked more personal, more intimate. He talked about God like his Papa… which really struck me because he was so estranged from his parents after their experience at the border. They loved him, of course. And of course he knew this, too. But your body knows better, you know? Your brain tries to rise above, but your body always feels that perceived betrayal… all the way down to every fiber of your body. Even after they were reunited. He always loved them, but he didn’t like them. He just couldn’t.
Yet all of that somehow resulted in an even closer connection with God. It’s like Jesus saw God at work all around him, like the air around his head buzzing with God. Like his fellow person was a part of God, equally deserving of his love and devotion. It was powerful to hear him talk about it. It was even more powerful to see it first-hand.
So yes, there was religion. But not just religion though. There was also activism. But again, it wasn’t abstract or ethereal. It wasn’t just about reading books or posting on Facebook. The activism of Jesus was pragmatic. Fearless. Powerful. He was never afraid to stand up to corruption, violence, dehumanization, demonization of others. Most notably, he pushed back with LOVE. Not anger or hostility. No quid pro quo, no. It seemed like he was able to absorb or deflect all of that negativity and respond in love. In strong, determined, unyielding love.
I’m sure that’s part of what got him killed. There’s no jail that can hold that level of goodness, and it’s a serious threat to the ways of this world.
So yeah, he’s dead. But me and my friends are not done yet. Never.
Jesus was clearly onto something beautiful and important, and we’re trying to figure it out. How does a person move from anger and estrangement and despair to LOVE? I want to know that. I need to know that. And I’m going to figure it out.
DISCUSSION: Why didn’t Jesus become a terrorist?
In another direction: What does this passage say about the care and lovingkindness of God?
(after reading the Brian Bilston poem) Embrace of the immigrant/refugee is a fundamental message of Xianity (and Judaism, and Islam). Why do so many miss it? How can we help them flip the script?
by Brian Bilston
( https://brianbilston.com/2016/03/23/refugees/ )
They have no need of our help
So do not tell me
These haggard faces could belong to you or me
Should life have dealt a different hand
We need to see them for who they really are
Chancers and scroungers
Layabouts and loungers
With bombs up their sleeves
Cut-throats and thieves
They are not
We should make them
Go back to where they came from
Share our food
Share our homes
Share our countries
Instead let us
Build a wall to keep them out
It is not okay to say
These are people just like us
A place should only belong to those who are born there
Do not be so stupid to think that
The world can be looked at another way
(now read from bottom to top)
(written in the moment, based on comments from the congregation)
I’d like to introduce you
a stranger in his own land
messenger of God
bringer of light
exemplar of living
lover of you
cherisher of your soul
champion of the immigrant
curator of your life
Go forth, knowing that you are loved.