This month, the media reported only a third of schools perform a traditional nativity play at Christmas. A further 47% of schools host a nativity, albeit with a new twist or modern characters. This means that despite the protestations of the media, around 80% of schools are still teaching their pupils the Christmas story and sharing it through public performances. Add to this the 60,000 people in south and east Kent who attend a Christmas service in their church and it is safe to assume that most of us are familiar with the story of Joseph and a heavily pregnant Mary, travelling to Bethlehem. where Jesus was born and laid in a manger, as there was no room at the inn.
The start of Jesus’ life was far from ideal. But what happened next’ Did the Holy family return to their home comforts in Nazareth? In Matthew chapter two we learn that Joseph is visited by an Angel who tells him to smuggle Mary and baby Jesus to Egypt to escape the death threats of King Herod. Scripture tells us that the young family remain in Egypt until Herod dies, only at which point they can safely return to Israel. Jesus was therefore a child refugee. If he was alive today, he would be one of around 8 million child refugees, who along with a further nine million adult refugees have been forcibly displaced worldwide. These people flee violence, oppression, hunger and war. They flee to different countries, often to camps where physical conditions are terrible, because they have no other option. In Jesus’ refugee status we see that God is present when humans suffer. God could have chosen to come to earth in human form and live amongst kings and leaders. Instead he chose to be born to a poor, vulnerable and displaced family.
In celebrating Christmas, whether at your child’s nativty or at church, we should be mindful that in welcoming Jesus’ birth, we must also open our hearts and minds to people who are suffering and vulnerable, to refugees, to economic immigrants, to the homeless, the destitute, and to all those who suffer hardships and grief this Christmas.
In the name of Mary, Joseph and Jesus, I pray that we will welcome all those who need our help.
by Bishop Trevor Willmott
Herne Bay Gazette, December 25th 2014