F. Dean Lueking, pastor emeritus of Grace Lutheran Church, is in his 62nd year as a River Forest resident and offers this reflection on Christmas, 2016:
At the heart of the Christmas story is the plight of a young couple forced by emergency circumstances to bring their child into the world in a cattle stall far from home.
Think of Mary and Joseph as displaced persons and their child, Jesus, as an immigrant from birth.
Such a re-imagining of the meaning of the event long ago in Bethlehem helps free Christmas from fluff and locate it amidst an issue no less urgent now than it was then: immigration.
Around 220 million people in today’s world are immigrants in some sense of the word — those who choose to move for economic benefits or are forced to flee desperate situations and seek acceptance in a new land. More often than not they are feared as the flotsam and jetsam on the ocean wave of global power and dealt with by being shooed away as much as possible for as long as possible.
To be sure, it is true that nowadays terrorists seek to slip in among the tide of immigrants and wreak havoc. They must be detected, prevented from entering, and punished for the crimes they commit.
But all immigrants must not be lumped into the category of threats and rejected before they ever have the chance to prove themselves. They are bona fide fellow human beings whose lives and well-being are at stake and who have much good to offer their new homeland.
Furthermore, those of us who will once again celebrate Jesus’ birth as the coming of the promised Savior have sound reason as his followers to obey his command to see in those who are displaced and pushed out none other than people who embody his presence and who are to be welcomed in the name of his hospitality and supported despite the inconvenience and cost.
In order to do that demanding thing, Christians do well to see Jesus himself as a displaced person in three senses: as the heavenly One whose birth made him one with us earthlings, whose parents took him to Egypt as a newborn threatened by Herod’s murderous jealousy, and as an itinerant preacher with nowhere to lay his head throughout his public ministry.
The sooner we Christians regain the Biblical understanding of ourselves as strangers and pilgrims with a two-dimensional calling as citizens with earthbound responsibilities toward immigrants, and as possessors of a heavenly hope through a Savior who loved us and gave himself for us, the better we will flourish in the former and be strong in the latter.
One more thing about Christmas and immigration, an insight I owe to fellow preacher Sam Wells:
One of Jesus’ forbears was Ruth, who lived more than a millennium before him. She was an immigrant woman from Moab, whose story of loyalty to her Israelite mother-in-law, Naomi, is not only lasting in inspiration but instructive in how immigrants become a leaven for great good in their new homeland.
Ruth married a man from Bethlehem, Boaz, and helped him face pushback as a husband with an immigrant wife. Together with him, she became not a bundle of trouble but a hope for the nation’s renewal.
Think of how that story has been replicated endlessly in our own nation’s history.
Let the immigrant theme in the Christmas story be heard, pondered, and applied as no small gift to our nation’s needs today.