Homily: Immigrant and Refugee Sunday

 Today is the feast of the Holy Family. Its readings proclaim the celebration of human life in the context of a family. Which some have defined as: That fundamental group in human society where, when you have nowhere else to go, they’ve got to take you in.

Our readings for this holy family Sunday explore the virtues of the nuclear, singular family.

Because of the Gospel indication that Joseph, because of the threat by Herod, took his family into Egypt to protect them, the Church has come to refer to this feast as Immigrant and Refugee Sunday.

In this respect, Catholic teaching has a long and rich tradition in promoting hospitality and defending refugees and immigrants. In our own day, Every Pope from Pius XII  has made specific statements in support of “the right of all peoples to migrate and to ensure their inclusion and participation in their new homeland”.

The Church has identified several basic principles regarding the rights of peoples, especially refugees. Persons have the right to find opportunities in their homeland. If these are not provided them, they have the right to migrate to support themselves and their families. Refugees and asylum seekers especially should be afforded protection. The human dignity and human rights of undocumented migrants should be respected. All of it finds its meaning in the words of the book of Exodus. ‘You shall not oppress the alien, for you yourself have been an alien in a foreign country.’ And the book of Leviticus: ‘You shall treat the alien who resides with you no differently than the natives born among you; have the same love for them as for yourself.’

But our feast today is primarily a celebration of the Holy Family itself, that central focus of our Nativity scene and of our Christmas faith. Good News! In the Holy Family we see God’s glory revealed. God’s presence among us, bringing us salvation!   

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness– on them a light has shined. If we choose to follow the signs.

And what are the signs? A child, wrapped in ordinary cloth and lying ina manger. A peasant girl, narrowly spared rejection after her husband-to-be found her to be pregnant with a child that wasn’t his. An overwhelmed father, doing his best to find shelter for his family on a night when they are homeless and friendless. A gathering of shepherds, among the lowest of laborers, and including criminals, hiding out in those hills. It doesn’t look like a glowing, ‘Nativity’ moment so far, does it?

I heard a priest speaking of how he, on his first trip to the Holy Land, had made arrangements to say Mass in the basilica of the Nativity. He was so excited, looking forward to worshiping in the sacred place of the birth of Jesus.

But the real experience was a very different thing than he expected. It was dirty, it was noisy, little children were running around, others were crying. Tourists wandered in and out with abandon.

And then he realized: this must have been what it was like on that first Christmas. Messy, filled with animals, noisy. How so like life itself.

I think in some ways that is just what makes the Christmas story such an effective representation of how our hope of salvation is born. The Christmas story tells us that the world doesn’t have to be made perfect before it is made new. The world doesn’t have to be rid of sinners before we are freed from sin. The world doesn’t need to be rid of darkness before we can walk in the light. In fact, Christmas tells us that God’s glory is revealed in the awful messiness of a stable and the pain of a Roman cross as it could never be in the brightness of the heavens, because the greatest glory of God is God’s love.

It’s an extravagant love, poured out for each one of us as if we were the only person in the world who God loves. It’s a generous love, lavished upon us in unlimited supply. It’s an unconditional love, offered without reservation or regard for what you have and haven’t done. It’s love without borders or limits, as the Christ whose birth we celebrate this season has called all people as God’s people, chosen and cherished.

Prophets words through the centuries testified to this love, but a love like that is beyond comprehending. And that’s why we needed Jesus. Jesus is more than a teacher who can help us understand the words in scripture. Jesus is the Word made flesh. We don’t have to figure it all out; we can experience it in relationship. And Jesus isn’t just an admirable character in a story, given so that we can imagine what he might do. The power and the hope of Christmas comes to us here and now, again and again, because through the Spirit whom Jesus sent to us, you and I and all who are called by God are the very Body of Christ himself. Every Sunday as we gather here, every time any two or three of us gather anywhere in our own extended families, we are invited to experience God’s love not as a passive observer, but as an active participant. We come to Jesus’ Holy Family, and the Word made flesh meets us in the flesh.

It’s a new life. It’s a new world. Right here, right now, we are invited to experience our own Christmas by living and loving as Christ’s Holy Family in our world. That’s the light we walk in, that shines all the more brightly in the darkness that cannot overcome it.

That’s the hope that sustains us, the peace that keeps us centered amidst life’s turmoil, the joy that makes eternal and abundant life present in the here and now.

Jesus the Christ is born! Our salvation — the Holy Family into which we are included — is here!  (©  Sarah Dylan Breuer UCC)



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