Coptic icon: Flight of the Holy Family to Egypt
A greeting from the World Council of Churches
“Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt.”
– Matthew 2:14
“…and the mother with her child is driven into foreign lands.”
– St John Chrysostom on Matthew 2:14, as quoted by St Thomas Aquinas
The miracle of Christmas is illuminated by God’s glory and orchestrated with glad songs of joy. In Matthew’s gospel we read of Magi following a star, learning of biblical prophecy, carrying lavish gifts for a child born to be king. The pilgrimage of the Magi brought them at last to “the place where the child lay”, a peaceful place where they paused in wonder; then, their journey continued along a new and different route as they told their story on the homeward way.
Amid the glory and perfect goodness of this great Good News, the gospel writer reminds us that the image of the Nativity is drawn against the backdrop of the often brutal world we know. Following the Magi’s farewell to the Holy Family, Matthew tells us (2:13-14),
“…an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.’ Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt”.
The guiding of the star at Christ’s birth is succeeded in short order by the Flight into Egypt. The story of Christmas and Epiphany is incomplete if we fail to remember the Refugees… refugees sent forth with the whispered benediction of an angel, assuring them of God’s abiding care.
In this Year of our Lord 2015, the number of refugees and other displaced persons in our world is greater than ever before. According to the annual report of UNHCR, the United Nations refugee agency, the number of human beings forcibly displaced from their homes is at least 59.5 million, up from 51.2 million in mid-2014 and 37.5 million just a decade ago. These daunting figures represent tens of millions of women like Mary, men like Joseph and children like the infant Jesus.
Reasons for displacement are many, and terrible in themselves. Warfare, injustice, persecution, disease and other natural catastrophes, as well as the consequences of climate change, are among the reasons for world-wide distress and human suffering. Root causes must be addressed, even as we seek to aid one another in ministries of care and recovery.
Throughout the past year, I have had opportunities to visit refugees and people in churches and agencies who are accompanying them in their trials. I have been overwhelmed by the generosity of spirit and affirmations of human dignity on every side. We have much to offer one another, including the qualities of dignity, compassion, hope and love. This is a critical moment in the lives of churches and societies on every continent and in every region.
In a recent communiqué on the refugee crisis, church leaders in Europe made these observations:
“As Christians we share the belief that we see in the other the image of Christ himself (Matthew 25:31-46) … The experience of migration and crossing of borders is known to the Church of Christ. The Holy Family were refugees; the very Incarnation of Our Lord is a crossing of the border between the Human and the Divine.”
The same religious representatives concluded, in part,
“As churches this is an opportunity to share more widely experience and expertise in offering spiritual and pastoral support, ecumenical and interfaith cooperation and building bridges between diverse communities.”
At this time of the Christian year, we remember God’s great love for the world in the gift of Jesus Christ. And we read once again of the flight of his family in search of a safer place than home. We also remember the Master’s later teaching, as recorded in Matthew 25:40,
“Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”
In this festival season celebrating the Incarnation in Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour, let us honour every gift we receive from God in Creation, and let us respect every member of the human family!
May all the blessings of Christmas be yours, and may they be yours to share,
Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit
General secretary, World Council of Churches
The music sheet of the song Uhibbuka Rabbi Yasu' is available for download at: