This post was written by Timothy Wotring as part of the Advent #PCUSAWallofWelcome series that PPF and the Office of Immigration Issues has gathered. Timothy is a member of the PPF Activist Council, a graduate of Union Theological Seminary in New York, and lives in Philadelphia. He writes often on his blog, blackflagtheology.com.
Stories shape how we understand the world. Some stories though are repeated enough times that one can become numb to their subversive tendencies. Matthew’s version of Jesus’s birth story has become one of those stories. Often it is read with a folksy Christmas pageant in mind. Yet, early hearers of this story would’ve felt and known the pain that the Holy Family endured. They would’ve known the corrupt political system and how their friends and family members would’ve hidden from the powers that be. Today, with migration, travelers searching for refuge, and asylum seekers in the news, I decided to rewrite Matthew 1:18-2:32 to highlight the theme of asylum and refuge:
Now the birth of Jesús the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother María had been engaged to José, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her soon-to-be husband José, being righteous and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said,
“José, son of David, do not be afraid to take María as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a child, and you are to name him Jesús, for he will save his people from their debts.”
All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by God through an ancient town-crier:
“Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a child,
and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.”
When José awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife but had no marital relations with her until she had born a child; and he named him Jesús.
It was during the time of the machismo king, after Jesús was born in a tiny-forsaken-town, that star-struck-wanderers came to the Capital, asking, “Where is the child who has been born to reign? For we observed a star at its rising and have come to pay him homage.” When the paranoid king heard this, he was frightened, and all the Capital with him; and calling together all the military, bankers, and his administration, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, “In that forgotten town, outside the Capital;
for so it has been written by another ancient proclaimer:
‘And you, tiny-forsaken-town, in a land of plenty,
are by no means least among the strong-armed kings;
for from you shall come a ruler
who is to shepherd God’s people.’”
Then that sneaky king secretly called for the bright-eyed-wanderers and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to that tiny-forsaken-town, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.”
When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with María his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their backpacks, they offered the family gifts of bottled water, baby food, and diapers. And having been warned in a dream not to return to the arrogant king, they left for their own country by another way.
Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to José in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and take asylum in a nearby country, and remain there until I tell you; for the dangerous king is about to search for the child, to destroy him.”
Then José got up, took the child and his mother by night, and trekked to a nearby country, and remained there until the death of the horrendous king.
This was to fulfill what had been spoken by God through another ancient forecaster, “Out of a place of asylum, I have called my child.”
When the king saw that he had been tricked by those star-gazing-wanderers, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around that tiny-forsaken-town who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wanderers.
Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the ancient disrupter Jeremias:
“A voice was heard in the wilderness,
wailing and loud lamentation,
A mother weeping for her children;
she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”
When the tyrant-king had died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared again in a dream to José and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and go back, for those who were seeking the child’s life are dead.” Then José got up, took the child and his mother, and went back to their homeland. But when José heard that tyrant-king’s son was ruling over that tiny-forsaken-town, he was afraid to go there. And after being warned in a dream, he moved the Holy Family farther north. There they made their home in a hickish country town, so that what had been spoken through those ancient prophets might be fulfilled, “He will be country folk.”
Of course, any rewriting of the Christmas story will have its faults. I could have changed the Holy Family’s names using Arabic to represent those fleeing Syria. Or I could have been specific with town names, but then again, I did not want to distract from my intent of lifting up the plight of migrants. Still the end goal of any reading of rewritten Scripture is to become reacquainted with the well-trod passage. Hopefully that was accomplished.
As I rewrote this, I thought of possible equivalents today in the passage. Angels and dreams seem to come in the form of the effects of climate change, xenophobic political policies, and the devastation of global capitalism. They announce to those living in the Global South that they are no longer welcome where they live. Like the Holy Family, families and individuals are forced to migrate to areas that they assume are better than what they had. Yet, as we know, instead of welcome, threats of a wall and lie-filled rhetoric are offered.
May we remember this Advent season that many holy families are still searching for sanctuary, searching for hope, and searching for peace. Let us be people of invitation and welcome.