Maybe it’s because I’ve directed too many Christmas pageants, but when I hear the story of the Magi visiting the baby Jesus, I don’t think of three kings at all. No visions of regal visitors decked out in their finest riding atop camels guided by a star for me. Just memories of little boys, all decked out in colourful shiny robes that threaten to trip them up, giggling and roughhousing, with their cardboard crowns askew. Of all the little boy kings that I’ve tried to corral, one of them stands out from all the rest. Perhaps I remember him so well because he was so little that we couldn’t have him kneel at the manger because we were afraid that he would disappear into the hay and our audience would only see two Wise Guys paying homage instead of three, or maybe it was the speed with which he dashed in and out of the gang of shepherds who threatened to trip him up with their crooks.
But I really think it was the ingenious way he solved the problem of his lost gold, that makes little Jay stand out from all the other little boy kings. Little Jay’s mother, like all the mothers of all the kings, was responsible for creating a facsimile of the gift her wise son would bestow on the baby Jesus. Unlike some of the feeble efforts that I’ve seen over the years, Jay’s gift of gold was a cut above the rest. Inside an elaborately carved box that his Dad had picked up on his travels to the Middle East, Jay’s mother had placed upon a bed of statin a carefully created block of wood wrapped in golden gift paper. When the light hit the gift, it sparkled so very splendidly. It must have impressed Jay, because he was forever opening up his box to show his fellow cast-members his sparkling gift. During the dress rehearsal, Jay’s performance was splendid. Jay positively perfected the art of gazing up at the makeshift star that hung above the altar just east of our makeshift manger. When he arrived at the place where the newborn baby Jesus lay in a makeshift manger, who just happened to be a little girl that year, Jay strode right up to her mother Mary and opened the box containing his sparkling offering and proudly announced his gift of gold for the new born king.
“They,” whoever “they” are, say that if the rehearsal does not go well then, the performance will be wonderful. So, I was more than a little worried when our dress rehearsal went off so splendidly because that could mean only one thing, and I wasn’t looking forward to a performance where things went wrong. Sure enough, unbeknownst to me, on the morning of his big performance, somewhere between his house and the church, Jay lost his golden gift. All he had was an empty box when he showed up at his father’s pew wailing because all was lost. Jay had no gold to give to the baby Jesus.
Today, as I reflect on the plight of so very many children, I can’t help thinking about that empty box and like little Jay, I simply want to wail. I think it was Boxing day, the second day of Christmas, when I first heard about the little 8-year-old Guatemalan boy who died on Christmas Eve, in the custody of U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Felipe Alonzo-Gomez’s death has haunted the twelve days of Christmas. Little Felipe’s death coupled with the knowledge that another child had died earlier in December, is an obscenity that ought to reduce every adult to wailing. Little Jakelin Caal Maquin was just seven years old when U.S. Customs and Border Protection failed in their duty of care. Little Jakelin and Little Felipe’s protection was sacrificed on the altar of a political idea which continues to put the protection of a border over and above the lives of children who are fleeing violence in their homeland. I confess that I’ve been more than a little obsessed this Christmas season by the plight of refugees. I’ve found myself searching for all the information that’s out there, hoping against hope that somebody, anybody has a magic solution that will safeguard the lives of refugees. But alas, like little Jay, I show up to greet the Christ child, with what appears to be nothing more than an empty box.
I’ve discovered all sorts of information. I would tell you all of what I have learned but if the truth be told, the information is so very overwhelming that I’m afraid that if I told you, we’d all just end up weeping. Suffice it to say that according to the United Nations Refugee authorities, last year there were close to 70 million migrants who were displaced by war and violence and there is no indication that 2019 will see these numbers go down. In addition to refugees, the UN estimates that 132 million people will need humanitarian aid in the coming year. The numbers are staggering. The temptation is to simply move on. Shed a tear perhaps but move on.
After all, I’m only one person. What can I do? The world is a very dark place. South Sudan, Yemen, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan, more countries in South and Central America than I can name, and then there’s the Rohingyas of Myanmar. Is it any wonder that we have become numb to the largest migration crisis since World War 2?
So, let me say their names again, little Jakelin and little Felipe, just 7 and 8 years old. Jakelin and Felipe, remember them. Jakelin and Felipe were fleeing violence accompanied by a parent. Parents who were helpless in the face of illnesses that under normal circumstances could have easily been treated. But these are not normal circumstances. These are dark days for migrants fleeing persecution, violence, and poverty.
Lest you think that we in Canada are doing a better job than our American cousins, I would remind you that more and more of these migrants are showing up at our border. About 300, in 2016, 500 in 2017, and the numbers have yet to be released for 2018, but speculations put the figure at about 1,000. Information about the welfare of these children is difficult if not impossible to discover, I know, I have tried. One thing I do know is these numbers are only going to increase.
It is getting darker and darker. So, what can we do in the face of this darkness? Well the good news is, there are many organizations working to provide light in the darkness. Clear policy guidelines have been identified. Rich countries that receive relatively few refugees must increase their support to countries that open their doors. That means we need to increase the pressure on our own elected officials. We need to work with advocates to ensure that countries on the front lines are first in line for financial aid. We need to advocate to prioritize the resettlement of vulnerable populations. We need to take a long hard look at the vast empty spaces in our rich land and work to encourage Canadians to share our land and wealth. Each and every one of us needs to support accredited agencies that are working with partners on the ground around the world to deliver aid. Lutheran World Relief is one option. There are others.
There’s a very helpful quote from the Jewish wisdom sage Rabbi Tarfon: that has helped me to see some light in this darkness.
“Do not be daunted by the magnitude of the world’s grief. Act justly now. Love mercy now. Walk humbly now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.”
You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it. This reminds me of the story of the starfish on the beach. There had been some freak tide and thousands upon thousands of starfish were washed on shore. A little girl was running from starfish to starfish making sure that each one was safely put back into the sea. An adult tried to stop the little girl by explaining to her that her efforts were too small, even if she helped her, they could possibly make a dent. Her efforts weren’t making much difference. The little girl barely stopped long enough to say, “it makes a difference to every starfish I manage to save.”
We are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are we free to abandon it. You and I are among the wealthiest people on this planet. Our cups positively overflow with blessings. We need not be daunted by the magnitude of the worlds’ grief. We need to pick something to do. Maybe your gifts aren’t suited to the refugee crisis.
Maybe your gifts are better suited to other work, like the environment, reconciliation, poverty, disease, peace-making, or helping the homeless. Pick a starfish, any starfish. Act justly now. Love mercy now. Walk humbly now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it. In the name of Jacquelin and Felipe we must do something…
I remember little Jay was overcome with grief over the loss of his gift of gold. What could he possibly do? There was no time to go home and make another gold bullion. The nativity play would be ruined. All was lost.
He’d looked everywhere he’d been. He couldn’t find the gift he was expected to give. It was not where he had left it. So, Jay’s Dad did the only thing he could do, he dug down deep into his own treasure to find a gift to give. He opened his wallet and looked at the bills; money, perhaps a few twenties would do the trick; modern gold? And then he saw it; the most precious treasure of all. It was a bit battered from its time spent in his wallet, but it was after all his most valuable treasure; so, he placed it in Jay’s box so it could be given to the newborn Jesus. When the time came, Jay bowed regally before the babe and little Emma smiled up at him, as he proudly lifted the lid of his beautifully carved box and offered up the gift that lay inside. The audience couldn’t see what I saw, but it was a gift more valuable than gold. For nestled there upon a bed of satin, was a slightly worn photograph of Jay. What gift could be more precious that the gift of one’s self?
We spend too much time looking to the heavens convinced that the light to guide us through the darkness is there waiting to be bestowed upon us by some king in the sky. The truth rests more securely closer than we have ever imagined. The light that can brighten the darkness cannot be found looking up into the heavens. Light shines deep inside of our being. Our light lies waiting to be shown to a world in need of such light, as we have to shine. Shift your gaze from the heavens for the light of the world shines forth from you. Look around you and you will see the Light of the World in your neighbours.
You are the light of the world oh people!!! Shine forth, for the world has need of your light. You may not be prepared, you may not think you’re ready, but deep within you shine the light this world needs, creation is waiting for you. The most profound words spoken in any nativity pageant are the words, “do not be afraid”….”fear not”.
We’ve spent far too long looking into the heavens for the Light to guide us. The is not up there. The light is over here; and here; and here; in you and you and you, and me. The light you seek to guide you in the darkness lies not in the heavens, but here, deep inside.
Open yourselves up and let your light shine, for your light is the light the world needs to provide a way through this darkness. You are the light of the world. Shine! Shine! Shine! For God’s sake, for all the little people’s sake. Shine! Shine! Shine!
Shapiro, Wisdom of the Sages, 41. Paraphrase of Rabbi Rami Shapiro’s interpretive translation of Rabbi Tarfon’s work on the Pirke Avot 2:20, as quoted in Barbara J. McClure’s “Moving Beyond Individualism in Pastoral Care and Counseling”. The text is a commentary on Micah 6:8
Our readings included: Deut. 10:17-19 – For YAHWEH is the God of gods,
the Sovereign of sovereigns, the great God, powerful and awe-inspiring, who has no favourites and cannot be bribed; who brings justice to the orphan and the widowed,
and who befriends the foreigner among you with food and clothing. In the same way, you too must befriend the foreigner, for you were once foreigners yourselves in the land of Egypt.
Leviticus 19:33-34: YAHWEH told Moses to tell the entire Israelite community these things: …“Do not mistreat the foreigners who reside in your land. The foreigner who lives among you must be treated like one of your own. Love them as you love yourself, for you too were a foreigner in the land of Egypt. I AM YAHWEH.”
Matthew 2:1-12 – After Jesus’ birth—which happened in Bethlehem of Judea, during the reign of Herod—astrologers from the East arrived in Jerusalem and asked,
“Where is the newborn ruler of the Jews?
We observed his star at its rising and have come to pay homage.”
At this news Herod became greatly disturbed, as did all of Jerusalem.
Summoning all the chief priests and religious scholars of the people, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born.
“In Bethlehem of Judea,” they informed him. “Here is what the prophet has written:
‘And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, are by no means least among the leaders of Judah, since from you will come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.’
Herod called the astrologers aside and found out from them the exact time of the star’s appearance.
Then he sent them to Bethlehem, after having instructed them, “Go and get detailed information about the child.
When you have found him, report back to me—so that I may go and offer homage too”.
After their audience with the ruler, they set out.
The star which they had observed at the rising, went ahead of them until it came to a standstill over the place where the child lay.
They were overjoyed at seeing the star and upon entering the house found the child with Mary, his mother.
They prostrated themselves and paid homage.
Then they opened their coffers and presented the child with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
They were warned in a dream not to return to Herod, so they went back to their own country by another route.