15 December 2015
Christmas and the Book of Boaz
This year we have witnessed a flood of refugees pouring north through Europe, seeking sanctuary from war, political and religious persecution and lives of misery. Some will have left everything behind and only taken with them what they could carry.
This reminds us of another perilous journey some two thousand years ago. The gospel of Matthew seems to suggest that Jesus was no longer a tiny baby when the magi arrived to worship him, as the despotic King Herod decided to kill all the boys in Bethlehem under the age of two. Joseph, a carpenter by trade, would have set up a workshop in the town by then, filled with a range of essential tools that he had built up since their arrival and the birth of the child. When the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph and told him to flee because Herod's soldiers were on their way, Matthew tells us that Joseph got up and they fled that night. No time to sell the workshop. No time to rent out the house. No time to even bake for the journey. Just grab what you can carry, and go. We don't even know for sure there was a donkey.
Then there was the journey to Egypt. Can you imagine the fear that Joseph and Mary must have felt? They had never been to Egypt. They didn't know the way. They didn't speak Egyptian. They were unprepared for a journey through barren wasteland with a toddler in tow. If only the angel had given them a few days warning! But no, this child was destined to feel the pain of humanity, and it was all starting as a refugee in a foreign land. It may be that they managed to tag along with a caravan on the trading route, but, with no warning, they certainly had not booked in advance.
We don't know what happened to them in Egypt, except that they survived and managed to make the even longer return journey to their home town of Nazareth a few years later, to start all over again. I rather doubt that they were welcomed with open arms by the Egyptians, and, with no job, no Egyptian language and a small child, they certainly would have needed the gold given them by the wise men to survive.
Let's imagine that somehow the holy family had been teleported into 21st century Britain instead of first century Egypt. How would they, as asylum seekers, have fared? Could they have proven Herod's political persecution of the child? After all, what threat was a toddler of low birth? And who told Joseph to flee? Really? Pull the other one. You don't even have an arrest warrant. And where did you get that gold? Now, that is funny! Their chances of being granted asylum in the UK would have been zero, and they would have been put on a plane back to Israel at the first opportunity – but not to Bethlehem or Nazareth, where there is no airport, but to Jerusalem, and right into the arms of Herod.
Jesus was an asylum seeker. He would have known from his parents just what they had to go through in their search for sanctuary. He would have been able to identify with those in the Book of Boaz who, likewise, fled manic dictators, torture and persecution to find a place of peace in a foreign land. And I suspect he would have been – and is today – angry at the way they and many others are treated in a system that neither welcomes nor wants the stranger in its midst.
by Dave Smith, author of The Book of Boaz, which is published by Instant Apostle and available from Christian bookshops and on-line retailers.