By Angelique Walker-Smith
“So he [Joseph] 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.” —Matthew 2:14-15 and Hosea 11:1
As the season of Advent unfolds, we are reminded of the hope we find in the birth of baby Jesus. We are also reminded that the birth did not come easily. The birth was a time when the Holy Family could not find room in the inn and became migrants soon after.
The Holy Family were subject to policies that were cruel and unwelcoming. Better known in Christian history as the Flight into Egypt, Matthew 2:13-23 and the New Testament apocrypha tell us about the visit by the Magi to the Holy Family, followed by an angel who appeared to Joseph in a dream—telling him to flee to Egypt with Mary and the infant Jesus since King Herod would seek the child to kill him.
Matthew tells us the Holy Family made their perilous journey to Egypt in the night. Dr. Victor von Hagen, a well-known archaeological historian, tells us Egypt was a logical place to find refuge. It was outside of King Herod’s authority. Egypt and Palestine were part of the Roman Empire, linked by a coastal road known as “the way of the sea.” Although travel between the two places was considered easy and relatively safe, the threat of the King Herod’s agents made the journey particularly dangerous. Despite this, a new hope was found when they arrived safely in Egypt and were welcomed.
In the Pan-African Devotional this month Dr. Amele Ekue relates this Flight to Egypt to the “millions of people who have to flee their homelands to new destinations today. Entire families escape with the hope that that their children will be able to fulfill their dreams in a more secure [place].” Their stories remind us that Jesus began his earthly life as a migrant.
The UNHCR reports there are 68.5 million people around the world have been forced from home. There are also an estimated 10 million stateless people who have been denied a nationality. One individual is forcibly displaced every two seconds because of conflict or persecution.
In the United States, the Trump administration is responding to this humanitarian crisis at our southern border by separating and incarcerating families, detaining and prosecuting parents, turning away asylum seekers, and deploying the military.
These families experience hunger and poverty in their homelands and on the treacherous journey north. The administration’s announcement to deny asylum to migrants seeking protection, is not only cruel and impractical—but also the antithesis of the welcoming gospel of Jesus Christ.
Respecting the right to seek safety without fearing punishment must be protected in federal policy. Instead of continuing unnecessary and immoral detention, deportation, and dangerous border policies, our country must follow the historical lineage of hospitability, moral leadership and hope experienced by the Holy Family.
Angelique Walker-Smith is senior associate for Pan-African and Orthodox Church engagement at Bread for the World.