The birth of any baby is an exciting and life-changing experience for parents. And it can be overwhelming.
His birth is foretold
It was no different for Mary and Joseph. They knew their baby was special. His coming was foretold hundreds of years before by a Jewish prophet, Isaiah, who wrote these words,
“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.” Isaiah 9:6
Jesus was destined to rule but his birth was a humble affair. His mother Mary wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, a feeding trough for the animals.
A decree by Emperor Augustus that the entire Roman world should be registered brought Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem but it was political hostility and aggression that forced the young family to seek refuge in Egypt.
Displacement is common in the 21st century. War, violence and persecution have uprooted more men, women and children around the world than in previous decades. In 2016 nearly 65.6 million people were driven from their homes by conflict and persecution.
Displacement is a story of suffering. Many displaced persons have seen their houses destroyed, members of their family being killed, and their communities torn apart.
Displaced people often embark on dangerous journeys in the hope of finding a safe haven.
Behrouz Boochani was one of a number of people, including parents with young children, who boarded a boat in Indonesia with the sole purpose of seeking asylum in Australia. While at sea the water pump failed and their boat began to take on water. They were eventually rescued by an Australian naval vessel.
In his book, No Friend but the Mountains, Boochani reflects on their experience. He says,
“As I look at the devastated faces, the virtue that comes to mind more than anything else is courage… They have conquered the waves and completed an arduous journey. They have endured a whole week of crushing hardship. They have suffered perils to match the most formidable terrors. They have withstood the kinds of torment that are akin to death.”
According to Australian law, Boochani and the other ‘boat people’ are deemed illegal immigrants. They were flown to Manus Island where they were placed in accommodation best described as rudimentary. Boochani says,
“Those imprisoned on Manus are themselves sacrificial subjects of violence. We are a bunch of ordinary humans locked up simply for seeking refuge.”
I am alone
Surrounded by human traffic passing in all directions
Arriving… departing… and over again
A cycle of absurdity and bewilderment
Displaced people are justified in their demands for justice. They have lost everything. They survive on a glimmer of hope.
Justice was also on the minds of many people. It was word of the year in 2018 and top lookup at Merriam-Webster.com. The nature of our national conversations is considered the inspiration for the unprecedented interest. The report says,
“The concept of justice was at the centre of many of our national debates in the past year: racial justice, social justice, criminal justice, economic justice. In any conversation about these topics, the question of just what exactly we mean when we use the term justice is relevant, and part of the discussion.”
What is justice?
Justice is fairness in the way people are treated.
Justice was at the heart of Jesus’ mission in the world. He was drawn to the disadvantaged, the marginalised, the abandoned, the homeless, the hurting and the lost.
His work is foretold
The prophet Isaiah also foretold the nature of his work. We read,
“The Spirit of the LORD is upon me because the LORD has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed and to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives, and release from darkness for the prisoners.” Isaiah 61:1
Many of us enjoy the benefits of an affluent lifestyle. We don’t know what it feels like to go without. There has always been food on the table and a roof over our head. Displacement is a concept that is unfamiliar to us. We can’t imagine a life without. We assume we will be treated fairly and that we will never be left to fend for ourselves.
It is challenging for people living in affluent societies to be open and responsive to the message of the first Christmas.
We prefer a Christmas that is big on celebration with trees and presents and colourful lights and plenty of food and drink for family and friends. These traditions are all good and proper and to be enjoyed.
And then there is the babe in a manger and we remember,
“This child is like no other. He is God’s gift to a lost world, a changing world, a nervous world. He is light, and hope, and peace. His love is expansive, encompassing everyone. His love is transformative, taking our brokenness and making us whole. His love never diminishes. It is without end.”
Christmas is about welcoming the child and making room for him in our hearts. The words of the carol, O Little Town of Bethlehem, capture this prayer.
O holy Child of Bethlehem
Descend to us, we pray
Cast out our sin and enter in
Be born in us today
It is time to celebrate, “He is born.”