How many of you have seen this image this past week?
A California church is displaying a nativity scene that depicts Jesus, Mary, and Joseph as refugees in cages. Claremont United Methodist Church converted the traditional nativity scene into the Holy Family being separated at the border and in cages. They have received a both great support and great anger about the display.
Rev. Karen Clark Ristine told L.A. Times reporter James Queally that the scene was intended to use the Holy Family to highlight the “nameless families” who are victims of the border crackdown. “We’ve heard of their plight; we’ve seen how these asylum seekers have been greeted and treated,” said Ristine. “We wanted the Holy Family to stand in for those nameless people because they also were refugees.”
“We don’t see it as political; we see it as theological,” she added.
Ristine’s sharing of a photo of the scene on Facebook sparked controversy, with some commenters calling the pastor “an instigator; a trouble maker who does not have this country’s best interests,” and questioning the purpose of the scene. In her post, Ristine said that the Nativity scene was meant to send a message. “Imagine Joseph and Mary separated at the border and Jesus no older than two taken from his mother and placed behind the fences of a Border Patrol detention center as more than 5,500 children have been the past three years,” wrote Ristine. “Jesus grew up to teach us kindness and mercy and a radical welcome of all people.” https://www.commondreams.org/news/2019/12/09/it-about-perseverance-against-cruelty-california-churchs-nativity-scene-shows-holy
Sometimes we have to disturb the peace to create peace.
Not the peace of oppression or suppression, but shalom, justice and wholeness for all.
While Canada has few refugee minors in detention, our country is part of the ‘Safe Third Country Agreement with the USA, the intent of which was to provide a consistent response to those seeking refuge in North America. Which in effect means that the USA immigration policies become ours.
There are a number of Canadian organizations, including the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers, the Canadian Council for Refugees,and a group of 200 law professors from universities across Canada. Their premise is that Canada can no longer have confidence that the American refugee system is providing a safe haven for those who face persecution. (Source: Wikipaedia)
Sometimes we have to disturb the peace to create peace.
For those of you who think I am making a political statement, I am! The word political is derived from polis, which simply means ‘affairs of the cities.’ In other words, how we decide to live together in community. Rev. Serene Jones, president of Union Theological Seminary says this, “Good theology absolutely must be public theology. What is theology, if it’s not talking about our collective lives and the meaning and purpose of our lives and how we’re supposed to live together and who God is? . . .” https://www.patheos.com/blogs/freelancechristianity/jesus-joseph-and-mary-in-cages/?fbclid=IwAR1xYCQfmxhdU-vRR1NXP40lLettrdlSzSKMCW1QqUtRI569gPv5647fF3c
Our first reading does not take place in a time of peace. It is set during the war when the kings of Israel and Syria were trying to force King Ahaz of Judah into an alliance against Assyria. Isaiah speaks of Sheol and heaven: “Sheol,” is the place of the dead, under the earth, and “heaven” above, so a sign could range from earthquake to lightning, but it will come in a normal, but significant event, suggesting that we can be surrounded by signs from God! Listen to these ancient words from the prophet Isaiah in chapter 7,verses 10-16:
7:10 Again the LORD spoke to Ahaz, saying,
7:11 Ask a sign of the LORD your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven.
7:12 But Ahaz said, I will not ask, and I will not put the LORD to the test.
7:13 Then Isaiah said: “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary mortals, that you weary my God also?
7:14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.
7:15 He shall eat curds and honey by the time he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good.
7:16 For before the child knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land before whose two kings you are in dread will be deserted.
Hear those important word in that last sentence: refuse the evil and choose the good!
It’s not always easy though is it? At least I don’t find it easy. Both in the little choices I make each day and in the larger ones. In fact, I find it easier to ‘refuse the evil and choose the good’ in the bigger things. It’s the smaller, insidious choices that we make each day in which we choose evil. Right now you’re going, What? Wait! Stay with me!
Food is occupying a fair bit of our time and energy right now isn’t it? Christmas baking.
Christmas gatherings which ALWAYS include food and drink. Special meals. The constant refrain in my head when I am eating are questions like these:
• How far did this food have to travel to get to my plate?
• Do I really need grapes in the middle of winter?
• What kind of wages are the farm workers paid?
• Do I know if child labour was used in this cocoa that I get from Costco?
It’s easy for me to choose the evil… or just not let it make enough impact on my consumption habits. Why? Convenience… and preference… And we have become accustomed to having every food we like at every time of the year haven’t we? No matter how far it has travelled.
Joseph was a man who made a choice. Listen to this account of Jesus’ birth as written in Matthew 1:18-25
1:18 Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.
1:19 Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly.
1:20 But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.
1:21 She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
1:22 All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:
1:23 “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.”
1:24 When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife,
1:25 but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.
Again, it’s the last line of the reading that grabs my attention! And Joseph named his Jesus.
Joseph doesn’t figure all that prominently in our scriptures… in fact, I think the last reference to him is when he and Mary found Jesus in the temple teaching the elders.
But Joseph, who in naming Jesus, named him as his own, is a critical piece in the story of Jesus birth. In naming the child, Joseph acknowledges him as his own son and thus becomes the legal father of the child according to Semitic law.
“…As a result of this legal adoption, Joseph’s ancestry as a descendent of David transfers also to his legal son… and heir to the promises of David, Joseph’s ancestor. (http://www.jesuswalk.com/christmas-incarnation/joseph-father.htm)
Who knows how Joseph may have felt when he discovered Mary was pregnant before they had been sexually intimate? Who knows how he may have felt when an angel of God visited him in a dream and told him that Mary had not dishonoured him? Who knows how challenging it may have been for Joseph to step outside the social conventions of his day that told him he should divorce Mary and instead marry her and take on a child that he know wasn’t his?
Sometimes you have to disturb the peace to create peace.
So where is the joy in those scripture readings and in our world? Where is the Good News?
I don’t know if you noticed, but in Matthew’s birth account, there are no angels announcing Jesus’ birth… no shepherds… no census, no trip to Bethlehem… Just Mary and Joseph… already living there… only magi… and they show up much later… Most people don’t realize that what we usually see in a typical stable scene is a conflation, or combining, of two very different stories. So, what is the essential joy and good news of the stories?
For me, it that Jesus was born… that Jesus lived… and that Jesus continues to live in the lives of those who follow his teachings.
The joy and good news are found in the work and witness of the Food Bank. The joy and good news are found in sponsoring refugees. The joy and good news are found in being a fair trade church. The joy and good news are found in disturbing the peace to create peace. The joy and good news are found in you… and you… and you… and me… each time we follow Jesus.
Thanks be to God for the challenge and the opportunity that was born in Jesus Christ. Amen.
Matthew 1: 18-25
December 22, 2019
Stairs Memorial United Church