I have several rules of engagement when reading online news articles. One is to not read the comments, as they will almost always lead to despair and frustration with humanity in general. The second rule is to never respond to those comments. Ever.
See, I know there is danger in looking at things you don’t want to see. It can change how you perceive the world.
Christmas day I read a piece by CNN reminding those who believe in the Christian narrative that Jesus was a refugee. I looked at the comments. I responded. Here is what I learned:
1) Those rules for online engagement (see first paragraph) are smart.
2) Many people who comment on articles do not actually read the article.
3) People (myself included) are often more interested in proving how right they are than in learning from others.
I also learned that there are a number of folks across this nation who attend church regularly who have never heard the story of how Mary, Joseph and Jesus fled Herod’s wrath and sought refuge in Egypt. (As an aside, the word used here in the Greek is pheuge…. which is the root word for the English refuge/refugee).
This story is important because it tells not only of the flight to Egypt, but it also bears witness to what occurred under Herod’s rule. It speaks of the meaningless slaughter of innocents who were killed because they were Jewish boys of a certain age in a certain region (see Matthew 2).
This story is important because it continues to occur in various iterations in our time – be it the attack on Jews celebrating the last day of Hanukkah at their Rabbi’s home, the incarceration of people of color at disproportionate rates, the rising numbers of school shootings or the number of LGBTQ suicides. Indeed, Rachel continues to weep for her children.
All too often we end the story of God’s incarnation with the shepherds wandering back to their sheep, or the wise ones showing up at the door bearing gifts and we look away from what happens next. We look away from the refugees, and from those persecuted and grieving as we put away the decorations for next year and make lists of goals for the next year. We prefer our Bible stories to be quaint and not filled with violence. We prefer our faith to not challenge us, and we prefer that our faith not be challenged.
What happens in Matthew 2 is a startling reminder that there have always been unjust rulers and violence. Grief and pain were not solved by the birth of Jesus. At the same time it is a reminder that God isn’t distant from what is occurred. God Incarnate is in the midst of this madness as a child who fled persecution to another country with his parents. Here we recall that Jesus wasn’t born into a world that looks like a Hallmark movie, perfect family dinners or calm and gentle nights. Jesus was born into a world of strife. He was born into our world.
If you’ve peered over the shoulders of shepherds this Christmas, if you’ve looked in the manger… don’t look away now. You can wisely choose not to look at the comments, but as people of faith, do not look away from the unfolding story of the incarnation. This is God in the middle of all of it. This is God with (all) of Us.