A Nativity to affirm the humanity of all people
A church in Southern California is attracting attention for their provocative, ripped-from-the-headlines haunting Nativity scene. Jesus, Mary and Joseph, not huddled around a manger but split into cages and separated at the border.
The scene that has many passing people doing a double-take sits outside Claremont United Methodist Church, whose lead pastor Karen Clark Ristine has released a statement along with the image, explaining the church’s decision.
“In a time in our country when refugee families seek asylum at our borders and are unwillingly separated from one another, we consider the most well-known refugee family in the world, Jesus, Mary and Joseph, the Holy Family,” Ristine writes.
“Shortly after the birth of Jesus, Joseph and Mary were forced to flee with their young son from Nazareth to Egypt to escape King Herod, a tyrant. They feared persecution and death.”
Some schools of thought take issue with casting Christs’ family as refugees.
But the argument for Mary, Joseph and Jesus as “refugees” here is pretty strong. The family was fleeing the violent government of their day and seeking refuge in a new country. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees says that a refugee is “someone who has been forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, war, or violence. A refugee has a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group.” Jesus would seem to fit that definition.
In fact, according to Rev. James Martin, “refugee” is in the biblical text itself. In Matthew 2:13, the angel tells Joseph to “Arise, and take the child and his mother, and flee into Egypt….” In the original Greek, that word flee is pheuge. Yep, it’s where we get our modern word “refugee.”
But the case is strong and, in any case, Jesus himself identified with the stranger and the marginalized in Matthew 25:35-38 when he said:
“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
Ristine continues in her statement on their website: “Imagine Joseph and Mary separated at the border and Jesus, no older than two, taken from his mother and placed behind the fences of a Border Patrol detention center as more than 5,500 children have been the past three years.”
People can argue the fine points about whether or not Jesus would have been considered a refugee during his ancient flight, but Jesus Himself made it clear that He is manifested in every refugee we see on the news today.