The Migrant Child!
The question of migrants in the world of today is a matter of deep distress to all peace-loving people. We know Pope Francis said last year (8 July 2017) that migrants are our brothers and sisters in search of a better life, away from poverty, hunger, and war. On account of selfishness of the rich and political power, voiceless people who are displaced seek unsafe asylum. This experience was already seen in the life of the Abrahamic descendants, starting from Abraham himself, who migrated from Mesopotamian Ur to Haran and then to Canaan. Yahweh repeatedly told the people of Israel that they were aliens (Ex 23:9; Lev 19:33-34; 25:23; Num 15:15: Jer 7:6; Eze 21:22) and to respect aliens and migrants. As we celebrate Christmas, I invite you to reflect on the Child Jesus who was a migrant child, not only in the land of Palestine but to the world itself, but gave salvation and asylum to the whole world.
No Place in the Inn!
The Lukan account of the Infancy Narrative says that Joseph and Mary “laid him (Child Jesus) in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn” (2:7). Biblical scholars, like Raymond Brown and Fitzmyer, after analyzing the Greek terminology: inn (klataluma) here come to the conclusion that Mary and Joseph could not find a place in the normal room of the inmates of Bethlehem but only in the place where cattle were kept (Birth of the Messiah, 398-401). This becomes evident that for the birth of the Saviour of the World he could not find a place of his own; he was a migrant, that too an “unwanted migrant” as per the account of St. John: “He came to his own home, and his own people received him not” (1:11). We cannot forget the same was the feeling of Jesus (Mt 8:19-22; Lk 9:58; Jn 10:18) and similar situation was in his death (Mt 27:59). This experience of alienation and migration was given to Child Jesus when his life was at stake by the cruel plan of Herod and he was taken to Egypt. It was even considered to be his ‘flight’ to Egypt for safety: flee to Egypt” (Mt 2:13).
Person of Asylum
At this moment we shall remember the fact that in the history of Israel, Egypt, though a place of slavery for them, was a place of asylum too. It was a classic land of refuge for all those fleeing from tyranny in Palestine. When King Solomon sought to put him to death, Jeroboam, “arose and fled to Egypt” (1 Kgs 11:40); fearing the anger of queen Jezebel, Elijah fled to the desert of Egypt (1 Kgs 19:3-4; when king Jehoiakim sought to kill him, the prophet Uriah fled to Egypt (Jer 2626:21). Egypt, once a place of slavery, became also a place of asylum. So too, Jesus, while being born to the world, became a great person of asylum to all those who are oppressed, aliens and to the people who are burdened with “heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Mt 11:28). As a child he started giving this consolation and solace to those shepherds in Bethlehem (Lk 2:10-20), Simeon and Anna in the Jerusalem temple (Lk 2: 29, 36) and even, while he was in the womb of Mary, to Elizabeth (Lk 1:41). He said very clearly that the whole purpose of his birth in the world is to give life to the sinners and oppressed (Mt 9: 12; Lk 15, 19:1-10; Jn 4).
Child Jesus was born as a migrant and oppressed in order to give encouragement to the suffering disciples of the 1st century, even unto the end of the world; from Bethlehem to Egypt, then from Egypt to Bethlehem and from there to Nazareth he had to flee for his life. This flight, though painful for him, become for all his sincere followers, not just a way of life (Lk ), but a mission to give comfort and mercy to all those who are migrant and burdened with mental and spiritual sickness. When Child Jesus was born, the angel announced: “good news of great joy which will come to all the people” (Lk 2:10); the same was the message of Simeon in the temple: “a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to thy people Israel” (2:32). Indeed, Jesus is for all those “with whom he is pleased” (Lk 2:14), that is, for all those who are of good will. This Jesus of mercy, love and fraternity must be born again in our life of justice, forgiveness and humility; this is because he was born not only as a migrant but also chose a place of cattle to accommodate and console the whole creation.
Christmas of love!
Pope Francis encouraged the couples in Dublin (25 August, 2018) to teach the children the language of love which is very much lacking in society today. Recent report says (Living in Faith, 14.11.2018) that safety is wanting for Indian children everywhere and in every way; in a country where 195.9 million people go hungry every day, we do not expect safety for children. Christmas is not only a day of celebration, but it is a day of remembering to renew our commitment to become the star of Bethlehem to give hope to burdened people like the angels of Shepherds’ field giving good news to the weaker sections of society; the crib of St. Francis of Assisi, accommodating everyone in our life by eliminating any division and groupism on the basis of caste, language, nation and so on. This migrant Child without minding the hard challenges became and becomes salvation for us all!
Wish every one of you Merry Christmas!
+ Antonysamy Peter Abir
Bishop of Sultanpet