When the magi had departed, behold,the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said,“Rise, take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you” (Mt 2:13).
If we resist glossing over the scene of the nativity because we have heard it many times before, we will realize anew that it is not a romantic one. Mary gave birth to Jesus in a stable or a cave. This setting was not the most hygienic of situations as this is where animals were kept. After the shepherds and kings come to pay the baby homage the situation does not get much better. For as we read in today’s Gospel from Matthew, Joseph is urged by an angel to flee because Herod had ordered the death of all male children under two years of age.
With the words of the angel and their forced relocation to Egypt, Jesus, Mary, and Joseph became refugees fleeing persecution. So many families today are unfortunately in a similar situation, fleeing to save their lives because their countries are torn by war, violence, terrorism, and/or the threat of persecution.
So many are escaping the horrors of the Syrian civil war, the instability, and violence in other areas of the Middle East and northern Africa, as well as in our hemisphere, especially in the Central American countries of Honduras, Guatemala, and Nicaragua. These countries, as well as too many others, are part of the tragic reality that has resulted in the largest number of families fleeing their countries since World War II.
The Son of God could have easily been born in a palace, among a family with power and stability, yet he chose to be born among the poor and displaced. His earliest days were ones marked by instability and danger.
“Jesus wanted to belong to a family who experienced these hardships so that no one would feel excluded from the loving closeness of God. The flight into Egypt caused by Herod’s threat shows us that God is present where man is in danger, where man is suffering, where he is fleeing, where he experiences rejection and abandonment; but God is also present where man dreams, where he hopes to return in freedom to his homeland and plans and chooses life for his family and dignity for himself and his loved ones” (Pope Francis homily, 12-29-13).
It is no wonder that Jesus teaches clearly later in the Gospel of Matthew 25:31-46 that we will be judged on how we treat the least of his brothers and sisters. For how we treat those in need is how we treat him. Not only does Jesus invite us to open our hearts and minds to those exiled from their homes and seeking refuge, but we are also to reach out to those individuals and families in need in our own communities.
To do so, we need to be aware and willing to be of help, to provide welcome, hospitality, hope, promise, and what support we can give. Jesus entered our human condition so he understands our trials, he is present to be of support for those of us in need as well as those in positions to help. May we pray for those families in need as well as be open to how God may be moving us to be more aware and seek concrete ways to help or provide support to those ministries and organizations that do so.