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Home By Another Way

Rev. Dr. Karin Case
Sat, Dec 24

Text: Matthew 2:1-7, 9-15

Come friends, and find shelter here. Come in and find refuge from the chaos of consumer Christmas, the frenzy of holiday preparations, the juggling of family responsibilities, the demands of work, the onslaught of news.

Come, you who are weary, and you who are frightened. Find grace in this community of faith where you are welcome no matter who you are, what you look like, who you love, no matter what your ability, or family status, race, class, or gender identity.

Come in tonight and find rest in the wondrous story of a baby’s birth. Take refuge in song and in beauty. Allow yourselves to be bathed in light.

Tonight, we tell the story of a baby’s birth, a story of young parents, and a long journey. A story of hard-working shepherds, and visiting dignitaries, herald angels, stable animals, and a shining star. We tell a story of wonder, mystery and hope.

Yet, this Christmas story also speaks of the shadow side of our nature. There is no room in the inn; Mary and Joseph find no welcome from innkeepers—whose business is hospitality.

And there’s the ominous warning that comes to Joseph in a dream—that he and his family should flee from Bethlehem and go home by another way, for Herod is seeking to destroy the child.

This is the world we live in, and the world into which Jesus is born. A world of powerful, autocratic Herods, and of vulnerable, ordinary people, in need of refuge and sanctuary.

This year more than 5,000 North African migrants were lost at sea trying to cross the Mediterranean in search of safety and economic opportunity. (1)

In recent months, we have looked on in horror, as refugee crises unfold in Syria, Yemen, and South Sudan. It is a peculiar heartbreak for us, in the U.S., that we sometimes know so much, while we can do so little to help. Information travels quickly, but solutions are worked out through policy, diplomacy, administrations, and regimes that are often far beyond our influence.

Yet, we are called to act. To be sanctuary for one another.

The theme runs like a deep river through our tradition. Leviticus reminds us that once we were strangers in a strange land and therefore we must welcome the stranger as ourselves. (2)

Hebrews urges us, “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” (3)

And finally, Matthew’s gospel tells of a savior—born a vulnerable child—to parents who soon must flee into hiding in Egypt.

At First Church, there is a variety of ways we provide sanctuary and safety. Some are outwardly visible:
+ In the basement, our First Church Shelter houses 14 long-term, overnight guests.
+ Every week, our Friday Café offers a space of hospitality and welcome for unhoused guests and hosts to gather together.

Sometimes we signal that we are safe sanctuary through visual symbols—like our Black Lives Matter signs, rainbow banners, or our gender-inclusive restroom signage.

Often individuals offer refuge—whether through emotional support, concrete help, teaching, or advocacy. For example,
+ An elder who regularly visits a member in prison.
+ A teenager who volunteers each and every week at the Friday Café.
+ An intern who invites us to reflect more deeply on transgender issues.

Sometimes sanctuary even shows up as an organizing priority.
+ I think of the dozens of First Church members who worked with Greater Boston Interfaith Organization for the passage of the Community Preservation Act—Question 5—on the Boston ballot in November. An action that helps create affordable housing. That’s a form of sanctuary!

First Church is already committed to providing refuge for so many. But is there something deeper in store for us? Something more that we are called to do or be? In January, at our adult formation hours, we’ll take a look at the theological and scriptural underpinnings of sanctuary. We’ll hear the personal story of our friend, Tony Alkhoury, from Hom, Syria, currently a student at Harvard Divinity School. We’ll focus on the current-day sanctuary movement and consider whether we might take action, possibly in conjunction with other Harvard Square churches.

But all of this can wait until January!

Tonight, let us hear the Christmas story anew and wonder at God-with-us. The savior who comes—not as a conquering king, to meet Herod’s might—but who enters our world of flesh as a tiny child, born of humble parents, whose first experience is to flee for refuge to a foreign land.

This savior meets us just as we are, in all our vulnerability and need.

Let us seek refuge in the one who finds refuge in God.

1) http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/ct-mediterranean-death-to...
2) Leviticus 19:33-34
3) Hebrews 13:2

Looking for ways to support our community during this unprecedented time of need? The Missions and Social Justice Committee has compiled and vetted a short list of organizations looking for assistance to aid in their work in the COVID-19 response...

In response to the Coronavirus outbreak, the Shelter has expanded into Sage Hall to allow for greater social distancing, and is now open to guests around the clock, thanks to additional funding from the Commonwealth. They would very much welcome...