After the Picture Perfect Christmas

After the Picture Perfect Christmas

Sermon Podcast Audio 

Picture Perfect

We have been looking at the nativity scene during our series, “A Picture Perfect Christmas.”  We have talked about the shepherd’s crook, the Magi, the message of the angels, and the manger. So, I thought it would be appropriate to talk about what happens after the birth of Jesus.

We will be looking at Matthew 2:13-16. To give some background to this scene, Herod was the king of Judea during this time and he was an awful man. Because of this, Joseph, Mary, and Jesus were on the run from Herod, for he had ordered all the boys in Bethlehem under the age of two to be killed. Not only did he order killing all the boys in Bethlehem that were two and under, he had also murdered his step-father, several of his wives, and two of his sons. So, Herod was a very terrible king.

In Matthew 2:13-16, we read… 

When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.” 

So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.” 

When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. 

The Journey

Now this trip was not an easy feat. It is 490 miles from Bethlehem to Egypt. Anybody taking this trip would need to plan for food, shelter, and transportation. On top of all these requirements, they had a young boy with them. The average healthy person can roughly travel up to about 20 miles a day. Yet, we see they got up during the night and left without any preparation for this journey after being warned of the impending danger by an angel. 

Many of us envision this journey to be like the paintings we have seen where the holy family is pictured with halos, serene faces, and angels hovering over them.  These pictures seem to portray easy traveling and an easy trip for Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, but I’m curious… just as the Christmas nativity wasn’t picture perfect, maybe this scene wasn’t picture perfect either. Maybe we have played it out to be something it wasn’t like at all. Maybe our culture has made it something entirely different, so that it would be easier for us to understand.

I think that there are other pictures that depict what it might have looked like for Jesus and his parents on their escape from King Herod to Egypt.  They are the pictures we have recently seen of the Syrian Refugee Crisis. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, and the refugees in these pictures are all running from evil and from danger. Both go to foreign lands where they have no friends and no guarantees of shelter or food.  Both go to a place where they don’t speak the same language and the culture is radically different from what they know. 

The Bible and Refugees

Look, I know we have been hearing about this issue of immigration and refugees all over in the news, facebook, and many other places talking about this hot political topic. But I’m not asking us to get into the ins and outs of the political debate, saying that one party is right and the other is wrong, or pointing fingers and blaming one another. All I am asking is for us to look at what the Bible says about refugees.

What does God say to do about this crisis on our hands? What does God say about how to treat, care for, and love refugees? As followers of Christ, this should be the first place we go to find answers on issues like this. Hopefully, this can give us some ideas or answers on how to respond as the body of Christ. 

Let’s look at Deuteronomy 10:18-19. Here in Deuteronomy, Moses has gone back to the top of Mt. Sinai to receive the second set of tablets that contain the Ten Commandments from God. He destroyed the first set by throwing them to the ground in anger because the Israelites had made a golden calf to worship.

Moses then explained to the people what the tablets instructed them to do, which was to fear God.  This is not the fear that we know, the one of being afraid or scared, but a fear of God that is out of respect of how powerful, all-knowing, and all-loving he is to them. Furthermore, we see this love portrayed in Moses’ explanation to the people:

He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt. —Deuteronomy 10:18-19

Did you see how God responded to the foreigners? He loves them. God not only loves his promised people, those inside the covenant, but he also loves those outside the covenant. In fact, one reason he chose the Israelites was to reveal himself to the world through them. And He wants us to love them too: the ones who are fatherless, who are widowed, who need food and clothing.

We are to reflect God’s character in this world, to show those around us what he is like. And he is asking us to love them as he has loved us. What we forget sometimes when we get lost in the political debate is that at some point, we were all foreigners here in America. Your lineage is not from here. And from this, God is telling us we should love them. And this love should be seen in the very tangible things we can do for them, by clothing them, feeding them, and giving them shelter. 

Ignore the Politics

I read an article this past week by Jeremy Courtney, the founder of an organization called Preemptive Love Coalition, which helps children in Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, and Iran who have heart problems, by providing surgery for them. He talks about the issue of ISIS and refugees, and he has had first-hand experience with this issue. He lives in in Iraq. He says that while he has fear for his family and those he cares about within his community, he chooses to ignore the different perspectives and judgments about how to handle the refugee crisis in the ways political individuals and media say and instead focuses on what God says. He writes, “What is needed above all, is the one thing we cannot attain by force of will: [we need] brand new eyes to see.”

He goes on later to say that yes, we need to be cautious, and yes, we need to be wise.  But we also need new eyes to see beyond what we are being told by others, especially those outside the church. With new eyes, we can see children who need shelter, parents who need food, and ultimately, people who are in need of safety from ISIS or war-torn countries. 

The Parable

And this is only one instance where the Bible speaks to this issue. Jesus also speaks to this subject in the New Testament. In Luke, we find a parable told by Jesus, and, like all the other parables, when He speaks these words, there is something deeper below the surface to what he is saying. Because of this, we can gain the knowledge of what Jesus was saying to the people of his time and how it pertains to us. 

In Luke 10, we see a person who is an expert on the Mosaic covenant laws testing Jesus and he asks, “What does it take to inherit eternal life?” With this question, Jesus replies “What has been written in the law?” The expert gives the answer, “to love the Lord your God with all your heart, strength, soul, and mind and to love your neighbor as yourself.” But the expert wants to know who his neighbor is and with this Jesus replies with a parable… 

In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side.  So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” —Luke 10:30-37

There is a lot I could go into with this parable, but I want to focus on the characters. You first have the man who is almost beaten to death, then the Priest, the Levite, and finally the Samaritan man. First of all, the priest and the Levite were both Jewish religious leaders who knew what the law said as they were well-versed in what we call the “Old Testament.” They knew the saying “Love your neighbor as yourself,” yet they did not show love to their neighbor.

They instead not only walked away from their neighbor, but moved to the other side of the road. Why would they do this? Why would they go out of their way to NOT help this man, someone from their own country, who was clearly in great need? I believe they did this out of fear for their own lives and wanting to keep themselves safe. They only thought about themselves and ignored a man who was nearly beaten to death.

But the craziest part about this parable is the man who showed compassion for the nearly beaten to death man. It was a Samaritan! Jesus chose to use a group of people that was hated within the Jewish community then.

Here is an interesting fact about how much the Jews hated Samaritans and everything they were about: when a Jew had to travel from Galilee to Judea, the easiest route would be to go through Samaria; however, they would go around Samaria instead of easily passing through it. That added a trip across the Jordan River and through the barren lands of Perea. The Jews had no love for the Samaritan people.

Love Thy Neighbor

Do you see what is going on? The main point is that we should be showing compassion, mercy, and love for our neighbor. Our neighbors are those who do not have shelter to keep themselves warm at night, or enough food to feed their family, or those who are running away from imminent evil; it is those in need.

Right now, many of us are leaning towards the attitude of the priest, or the Levite and want walk to the other side of the road, instead of reflecting the attitude of the Samaritan man. We want to forget we ever saw that refugee who has no place to call home, no food to feed himself or his family, or those people are who are slowly giving up hope every single day while we quietly turn our heads and pass by on the other side of the road.

But we can’t. We can’t just sit idle in our own comfort. We can’t just cross to the other side of the road and offer no hope to those who need our help. Jesus has given us a commandment to go and help the fatherless, the widowed, and the needy. He wants us to get out of our comfort zones and love our neighbors. Yes, we should be afraid of terrorism, but we should never let fear rule us.

In First John it says,

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. —1 John 4:18

Our God is so much bigger than our insecurities, because our God is the creator and sustainer of all.

So, all I ask from us as the body of Christ is: Are we living out the same compassion that Christ has shown for people? Let him give you new eyes to see these refugees as he sees them. Allow him to open your eyes to see the baby that needs protection, or the children who need refuge from evil, or parents who want nothing more than to provide a safe place for their family.

Action

But what do we do?

First, we need come to the Lord and pray.

  • We need to pray for these people—that God’s hand will be with them.
  • We need to pray for our nation—that we can break down whatever is holding us back from helping people.
  • We need to pray for ourselves—to let God transform us, to lead us, and to break down whatever is holding us back.

Secondly, I believe we need to take action. We must no longer move to the other side of the road. This is our opportunity to show compassion to those that God has commanded us to help. One potential way to get involved is to check out this website http://refugeecrisis.worldrelief.org/, which allows people to apply to aid and support refugee families when they arrive in our country, by welcoming them, helping them adjust, and getting them on their feet.

I am a foreigner. I might not understand exactly what these refugees are going through, but my father does. My dad and nine other family members fled from their home country of Laos because of the fallout of the Vietnam war and persecution in the country. My father spent a year in a refugee camp and was luckily relocated to Iowa in 1975. It was hard for him because he had to live in a small apartment with several others, not knowing the language or the customs, and he was looked upon differently.

I can’t help but wonder what might have happened if my father’s side of the family had received love and been cared for by a Christian family. I wonder if my Buddhist father might have been very open and receptive to Christ.

We have an opportunity to not only help those overseas, but those here, right now in our backyards. In our communities we have many refugees who need help getting set up, learning our customs, learning our language, navigating the legal system, getting kids into school, and finding jobs.

We can keep on talking about what we as a church should be doing, but talk is cheap. We need to actually be doing something, whether it is supporting refugees in different countries or the ones in our backyard. One thing some people in our church do, which I love, is go down to Oakridge to help teach kids from other countries to read English. That’s a perfect example of getting involved in the lives of refugees!

I know this is a hot topic in our country. I know it is tempting to not want to pay attention to this crisis, but the issue isn’t going away anytime soon. It is something we as a nation have had to deal with since our founding. And we as followers of Jesus have a choice to turn our heads as we walk to the other side of the road, or show love, truth, mercy, and compassion for others, the same compassion that Christ showed us.

I pray this coming New Year, that God will challenge us in this area and that He ignites a fire in our hearts to go out and make a difference.

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