World Refugee Day Homily

2018.06.20 MidWeek Communion Service Homily (World Refugee Day) at Oak Grove United Methodist Church

Scripture: Matthew 2:13-15
“When the magi had departed, an angel from the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up. Take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod will soon search for the child in order to kill him.” Joseph got up and, during the night, took the child and his mother to Egypt. He stayed there until Herod died.”

In this part of the birth narrative of Jesus, Matthew’s gospel is telling us the story of love coming into the world through Jesus–fully human, fully God. The obedient Magi have just left the scene, being warned in a dream to flee from the somewhat insecure, and certainly murderous, King Herod.

And so, we come into the story at the point where Joseph is also being warned in a dream to escape. They go to Egypt, fleeing for their lives.

We don’t get a lot of details about their experience getting to Egypt, nor how they were received in Egypt, but shortly after this scripture they do return and move to Nazareth in Galilee.

Today is international World Refugee Day. A day created by the United Nations General Assembly on December 4, 2000. The assembly noted that 2001 marked the 50th anniversary of the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. This 1951 convention determined who qualified as refugees, set out the rights of individuals to be granted asylum, and defined the agreed-upon the responsibilities of nations granting asylum.

The UN High Commission of Refugees says that a refugee is: “A person who owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion,” and notes that refugees are typically unable to return home for those fears of persecution or unable to return home. (more info)

We see in the early text of Matthew’s Gospel narrative that Jesus, God incarnate, was forced to flee with his parents for fear of persecution and violence. Matthew’s portrayal of the birth narrative is mostly a story of God’s activity. The story is about the baby, infant Jesus, so Jesus here is not saving himself nor are these particularly really heroic  deeds from Mary or Joseph, but rather faithful action–just as any parent would do what they needed for their children. This minor digression in the birth narrative is only found in the Gospel of Matthew and is often an overlooked portion of scripture. It reminds us that we are called to pay attention to the minor digressions in stories and that even through unappreciated and seemingly less important people God might be trying to show us something.

Photo Jun 23, 11 16 53 AM.jpgImagine being someone in Egypt who met a baby/toddler version of Jesus brought in by two young parents, likely scared and yet hopeful. They went to Egypt with dreams for a better life for their child, the baby Jesus. And we don’t know that they found welcome in Egypt, but I like to imagine that some Egyptians saw them, had pity on them, recognized their gifts and abilities, and wanted to help them succeed.

World refugee day is about the celebration of not just the triumph of the human spirit, but also of the provision and welcome offered by host countries and community members.

How might we be called to pay attention to make room in our own lives for unexpected people or to create a space for others who are looking for a place of safety.

Sometime this week, whether tonight or later this week, perhaps re-read Matthew 2:13-15a and perhaps imagine yourself as an Egyptian seeing the holy family coming into town.

How do you feel drawn to help to encourage or to provide welcome?
How might God be using that to encourage us all to find a little more room?

Let it be so. Amen.


FYI: MidWeek Communion is a weekly Weds 5pm Worship service of prayers, a song, a Homily, and Holy Communion held in Grand Hall at Oak Grove UMC–feel free to drop by if you’re going to be out of town over the weekend or wanting to stop in & say “hi.” –JMcBray

Good King Wenceslas

The moral of this olden tale is social justice and care for the poor: “Therefore, Christian men (people), be sure, Wealth or rank possessing, Ye who now will bless the poor, Shall yourselves find blessing…”

Earlier in the week here in Atlanta, Ga we had 4 inches or so of SNOW. This once-in-a-decade “Snowmageddon” or “Snowpocalypse,” as some have termed it, has, needless to say, shut down transportation in much of the city. SO, in lieu of a snowmobile or car that can handle snow/ice,  I’ve been hiking to work (literally) a few miles each way (2.3 miles) to Emory University to meet and work with the college students of the Emory Wesley Fellowship ( The students are filtering in and doing well–especially since classes should have started YESTERDAY–needless to say, they’re enjoying their time of epic sledding and adventurously traversing the ice.

In my own travels through the snow and ice covered streets I’ve found myself enjoying parts of the neighborhoods I usually zip through in my car or on my bike. I’ve gained a new appreciation for the sidewalks (and for people who have been so kind as to scrape and/or salt their section of the sidewalk) and for walking in the snow and ice.

As I’ve been hiking through the ice I’ve found myself humming and singing a familiar carol that we used at Christmas in worship services with the Emory college students. Good King Wenceslas is an old, familiar carol that I’ve sung often (and even made up alternate lyrics on occasion). For our closing worship service for the Fall Semester last year, the Emory Wesley students offered up short meditations on their favorite Christmas carols as to why they liked the carol and some of its historical significance or origins. One of the students selected Good King Wenceslas and shared a brief history of it–of how it is the recounting of the benevolent actions of a Saint King (actually Wenceslas I, Duke of Bohemia in the 10th Century wikipedia here) and his page (assistant of the day). It is the story of a king looking out on the day after Christmas (the Feast of Stephen) and seeing a poor man gathering fire wood. The king and page then carry meat, wine, and wood to the peasant’s house through a brutal winter storm to “see him dine.” As they are going “Thro’ the rude wind’s wild lament and the bitter weather” the page says he “can go no longer.” The monarch then tells the page to follow in his footsteps and as the page steps on the warmed ground where the Saint has walked!

The moral of this olden tale is social justice and care for the poor: “Therefore, Christian men (people), be sure, Wealth or rank possessing, Ye who now will bless the poor, Shall yourselves find blessing. It is not simply a 10th Century prosperity gospel, but a carol that reminds us to be a blessing to others–regardless of our social or economic status. Christ calls us to ministry with and for the poor–in serving and loving people we will discover the blessing of mutuality and understanding of others.

Below is my recording of an arrangement of the beloved Christmas Carol from the 16th Century. Again, the origins of this carol come from the stories of a Saintly ‘King’ Wenceslas I, Duke of Bohemia, who lived in the 10th Century in what is modern day Czech Republic (where he is now the patron Saint).

Good King Wenceslas looked out On the feast of Stephen
When the snow lay round about deep and crisp and even
Brightly shown the moon that night though the frost was cruel
When a poor man came in sight gathering winter fuel

“Hither, page, and stand by me, If thou know’st it, telling,
Yonder peasant, who is he? Where and what his dwelling?”
“Sire, he lives a good league hence, Underneath the mountain;
Right against the forest fence, By Saint Agnes’ fountain.”

“Bring me flesh, and bring me wine, Bring me pine logs hither:
Thou and I will see him dine, When we bear them thither.”
Page and monarch, forth they went, Forth they went together;
Thro’ the rude wind’s wild lament And the bitter weather.

“Sire, the night is darker now, And the wind blows stronger;
Fails my heart, I know not how, I can go no longer.”
Mark my footsteps, good my page; Tread thou in them boldly:
Thou shalt find the winter’s rage Freeze thy blood less coldly.”

In his master’s steps he trod,  Where the snow lay dented;
Heat was in the very sod  Which the saint had printed.
Therefore, Christian men (people), be sure,  Wealth or rank possessing,
Ye who now will bless the poor, Shall yourselves find blessing.

Good King Wenceslas chords here