(Matthew 2: 13-23)


When I was a patrolman for the City of Houston back in the late 1970s and early 80s I worked out of the Central Station and was assigned to patrol 17 District which was about as diverse as you could get.  We had, residing within the district people from all around the world, but we had two distinct groups of immigrants that stood out.  When South Vietnam fell to the communists those Vietnamese who had been allied with the United States sought refuge in the United States out of fear of retribution and retaliation.  Overnight we had a large representation of Vietnamese refugees that was settled into a government housing project located in 17 District.  They didn’t necessarily want to leave their home country but fled in fear for their safety and the safety of their loved ones.  All they wanted to do was to live in peace and make a life for themselves.  Such would not be the case.  They didn’t look like us regular Americans, they talked funny, and you couldn’t understand them even when they spoke English, and they ate some really weird food.  To make matters worse, they worked really hard and had no concept of an eight-hour workday.  And then we had this really large Hispanic population which one would naturally assume was all from Mexico, but you’d be wrong.  Sure, most it seemed were from Mexico, but as you got to know them more you realized they were from just about every country in Latin America.  Some of the men were working labor jobs and sending as much of their money back home to their families.  And many already had family living here and jobs waiting for them.  Once the men found a place to live and a job they would often send for the rest of their family.   But some came with their entire families as they were fleeing the unrest taking place in their home country making it unsafe to remain even for a little while.  One thing we learned quickly was that patrolling these communities was pretty boring.  Nothing ever happened, and if it did, they often took care of it themselves, not wanting to call attention to their existence.  All they were interested in was providing for their families and living in peace without fear of what the next regime change would bring.  They were just taking refuge from the storm in hopes that maybe they could return some day.  If not, then America, the great melting pot, would become their new home country.  In the meantime, they would enjoy living in the home of the brave and the land of the free.


And taking refuge from the storm is what the Apostle Matthew is talking about in our scripture reading for this morning.  This is a part of the Christmas story that seldom, if ever, gets told.  We’re so excited to celebrate the birth of Jesus and exchange gifts with our loved ones that we don’t consider the rest of the story.  The rest of the story for us is in exchanging what doesn’t fit.  But the rest of the story for Jesus and his family is fleeing the coming storm, literally fleeing for their lives.  We pick up right after the magi were warned in a dream not to return to King Herod as he had asked, but to go back to their country by another route.  Matthew tells us that when the magi had departed, an angel from the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said: Get up.  Take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt.  Stay there until I tell you, for Herod will soon search for the child in order to kill him.  Notice the angel didn’t tell Joseph that when he awoke in the morning to close up shop, sell what he couldn’t take with him, and say goodbye to his friends and family.  It was just that serious and life threatening.  So, Joseph got up and, during the night, took the child and his mother to Egypt.  The angel of the Lord had given Joseph a head start over the countless others who would soon follow, fleeing in panicked desperation.  We’re told that when Herod realized that the magi had fooled him, he grew very angry.  He sent soldiers to kill all the children in Bethlehem and in all the surrounding territory who were two years old and younger, according to the time of birth that he had learned from the magi.  You remember the backstory here.  The magi showed up at the palace looking for the new king of the Jews.  This was news to Herod, and he asked his religious experts what this was all about.  Apparently, Herod who was Jewish wasn’t up on the prophets who foretold the coming of the Messiah, a child born to a virgin in the City of David, Bethlehem.  That’s when Herod instructed the magi to go to Bethlehem, find the child, and return back to him so that he might go and worship him.  What happened next fulfilled the word spoken through Jeremiah the prophet who wrote: A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and much grieving.  Rachel weeping for her children, and she did not want to be comforted, because they were no more.


Fleeing to Egypt was not unusual because there were colonies of Jews already living in several major Egyptian cities, sanctuary cities if you will, that were established during the time of the great captivity.  Additionally, Egypt was a wealthy country and these migrations provided laborers and other craftsmen adding to their economy, so their contributions were welcomed and appreciated.


Matthew tells us that after King Herod died, an angel from the Lord appeared in another dream to Joseph and said: Get up and take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel.  Those who were trying to kill the child are dead.  So, there was a regime change that made it safe to return to Israel, however, when Joseph learned that Herod’s son Archelaus had taken his place in Judea he took his family to Galilee and settled in the city of Nazareth.  Archelaus was also a violent man who began his reign by slaughtering over 3,000 influential people.  The heat had died down on this search for the new king of the Jews, but Joseph wasn’t about to take any chances.  I think it’s important to realize that Joseph was, in all probability, not the only one to flee to Egypt with his family when the murdering of children began, and he probably wasn’t the only one to return to Israel when it was safe.  And there were, no doubt, others who had begun a new life in Egypt and decided to stay in their newly adopted country, assimilating into their communities.  That’s the way it is with immigration.


But the problem of immigration, legal and illegal, is not new and Joseph fleeing with his family just ahead of the slaughter of innocents is just one of many immigrant stories.  My grandmother, as a very small child, came to America with her family from eastern Europe just before the outbreak of World War One.  They talked funny, dressed funny, ate different food, and stuck together with their own kind, moving into neighborhoods already populated with people just like them finding jobs as they assimilated into American life.  As I remember the story, my grandmother’s family was different in that they did return only to find that it had gotten worse and made their second trip back to the United States.  They truly loved their homeland but staying was just not an option.


So, what you ask, is the Methodist Church’s position on immigration?  I’m glad you asked because it is important and gives us some guidance.  Paragraph 162, section H, Rights of Immigrants, of our Book of Discipline says: We recognize, embrace, and affirm all persons, regardless of country of origin, as members of the family of God.  We affirm the right of all persons to equal opportunities for employment, access to housing, health care, education, and freedom from social discrimination.  We urge the Church and society to recognize the gifts, contributions, and struggles of those who are immigrants and to advocate for justice for all.  We oppose immigration policies that separate family members from each other or that include detention of families with children, and we call on local churches to be in ministry with immigrant families. 


I know what you’re thinking.  Yeah, this is all well and good Scott, but we are being overrun with illegal aliens at our southern border and, by the way, your grandmother came here legally.  Agreed, but our Book of Discipline makes no distinction between legal and illegal.  Even Jared Kushner, the former president’s son-in-law realized that when he recently told an interviewer on Fox News: “I personally watch what’s happening and it’s very hard to see at the southern border.  I also—we have to remember these are human beings, they’re people.  So seeing them being used as political pawns one way or the other is very troubling to see.”


Jared hit the nail on the head.  It is troubling to see, and they are people.  So, what are we going to do about it?  Well, first we have to recognize that it isn’t a Democrat problem or a Republican problem.  It’s a human problem and should be dealt with as such.  And, admittedly, it is a huge problem with no easy solution.  We, as a country, have to get at the root of the problem as in why are people fleeing their homelands in droves, traveling thousands of treacherous and deadly miles to come to not only the United States but to other democratic countries?  And we must do what we can to meet the needs of these people so that, if they decide to stay, they will be productive and contributing members of our society, and, if they eventually choose to return home when it is no longer dangerous, they will be better equipped to work for the betterment and improvement of their homelands.  And, as Methodists, we not only have to do what we can to be in ministry with these people, we need to impress upon our elected officials how we feel and encourage them to work together to come up with solutions to this human problem to the benefit of everyone.  If not, we’ll be no better than Herod who had the blood of innocents on his hands.  As Christians we have to understand what it really means to be a Christian, unlike Herod who had to have his religious experts explain it to him, and do all we can to make our country a safe haven for those seeking refuge from the storm.


Let us pray.


Gracious and loving Father, keep us mindful of what it truly means to be a follower of the way of your son, Jesus Christ.  Make us active participants in the upbuilding of your kingdom even if it means you sending us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.  Send the wretched refuse of your teeming shore, send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to us as we lift the light of your love beside the golden door.  In Jesus’ name, we pray, Amen.