Editor’s note: This Advent reflection is also available in Spanish.
By Rev. Dr. Angelique Walker-Smith
My reverence for the majesty of the stars and the heavens began as a child. I was encouraged in this by my parents and a few African American neighborhood parents, as I played with their children underneath our sacred nighttime canopy.
Although our predominantly white neighborhood did not appreciate our visible presence—exhibiting the integration of the neighborhood—the sanctuary of the stars extended a counter invitation. God’s creation majesty invited our imagination and gave hope in a context of division and rejection.
Jesus was born during a time when a hostile government carried out a policy to reject and kill Hebrew male children two years or younger. Today, it is referred to as the “Massacre of the Innocents. ”
“Then Herod… was exceedingly angry; and he sent forth and put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two years old and under ….” (Matthew 2:16a).
Herod’s response came after the visit of three wise men who followed the eastern star with the hope of worshipping the Christ child. After their visitation, a dream revealed to them that they should not return to Herod to share the whereabouts of the child.
“When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was …. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy …. And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way” (Matthew 2:9-12).
Soon after this, the Holy Family left their context of conflict and rejection; they followed the stars at night and journeyed to Egypt in hope.
“Arise, take the young Child and His mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I [angel] bring you word; for Herod will seek the young Child to destroy Him. When he [Joseph] arose, he took the young Child and His mother by night and departed for Egypt” (Matthew 2:13-14).
Today many are fleeing rejection, hunger, poverty, and conflict to find a better life for themselves. Their journey is treacherous but still they live with the hope of finding freedom.
This reminds me of my ancestors, who were a part of the Great Migration north or the Underground Railroad—a network of secret routes and safe houses maintained by people of faith like Harriet Tubman. In the recent and popular movie, “Harriet,” viewers have been reminded that African Americans followed the north star of hope. But God was with them, and God is with us today. Therefore we pray.
May the Holy Spirit lead you in your renewed discovery of hope and faith during the Christmastide season. Amen.
Rev. Dr. Angelique Walker-Smith is senior associate for Pan African and Orthodox Church Engagement at Bread for the World.