Tomorrow is the Feast of the Epiphany, when the wise ones coming from the East arrive in Bethlehem to gift the infant Jesus with gold, frankincense and myrrh. They have eyes to see from afar what goes unnoticed by the traditional powers and principalities: the true significance of this momentous birth. Only when alerted by outsiders to this unlikely royal birth do King Herod, and those with everything to lose, awaken to the threat in their midst. The guiding star, the dreams and the effort to outsmart Herod and the dramatic escape of the Christ child to the safety of Egypt make for fine pageantry indeed. Here at St. Simon’s the festivities will include a delicious potluck supper and game playing. I hope you’re able to join the feast.
While we make much of the Feast of Epiphany itself, and rightly so, most Christians gloss over what happens next, as it is not typically included in children’s pageants. Jesus and his parents flee as refugees seeking shelter in a foreign land while Herod’s forces slaughter all male children in the area who are under the age of two. The Feast of the Holy Innocents is a heartbreaking reminder that when the powerful are threatened, the innocent suffer if they cannot flee to safety. I have never been forced to flee for my life, and it is difficult to imagine what Mary and Joseph experienced or what, for that matter, millions of refugees do even in our day.
But being attentive to the very real challenges of being a stranger in a strange land is essential to understanding our Judeo-Christian heritage and not something that we can simply overlook because it might be inconvenient. It is central. In giving the Law to Moses on Mt Sinai, God requires that the people ‘walk in all God’s ways, to love him and to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and to keep the commandments that are being commanded.’ And God goes on to remind that he himself …
the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome who is not partial and takes no bribe, executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing. You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.
Over and over throughout scriptures, the people of God are reminded to care for the orphan, the widow and the stranger, not only because we known what it is like—in Egypt, in Babylon and in Egypt again with the holy family—but also because God cares for them. Over and over again, the people of God are reminded to care for the orphan, the widow and the stranger. They aren’t the only ones we are required to care for, of course; they are code words for all those on the edges, the weak, the vulnerable and the powerless. Jesus’ summary of the law links loving God with loving neighbor—you cannot love God if you do not love those whom God loves, which is everyone.
The very real refugee crisis in our world has never been more visible. Last spring a number of parishioners here at St Simon’s were moved to seek out some concrete way to respond, and after several months exploration have found reliable partners through whom to honor this call. The needs are great and in the coming months there will be a variety of ways those who desire to participate will be invited to do so. If you’re interested, please email Kate Rickard or Angie Andrews or me.
Our human tendency is to focus on those who have more than we; God calls us to see and respond to those who have far less. We are to see with the eyes of the wise ones the holy in our midst in the least likely of places and people. While some hearts are particularly moved by the plight of refugees, others are moved to find ways to reach out to care for others in our world who are vulnerable and powerless. Whose plight moves your heart?
Hope to see you Sunday,