By John Mark Boes
Allow me to set the stage for you.
A family has siblings who have been killed. That same family is being extorted by the local cartel to the point that they have no idea how they can make their next extortion payment. As a result, there are death threats to the parents and the children. Their community is no longer safe to reside in, let alone to accomplish errands that need to be run or tasks that need to be completed. The choice is binary: stay and risk death or leave to find a better place to live.
This story is remarkably like another story that we will celebrate in a few short weeks. Matthew 2 relates the story of the angel who appears to Joseph saying, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him” (Matthew 2:13 NRSV). Afterward, Herod does, in fact, kill all the children around Bethlehem who were two years old and younger.
Mary and Joseph do what would be expected of any parent—risk everything to uproot their family to protect their beloved child. Why do we expect differently of those coming from central America?
Nowhere in our Christmas discourse do we criticize the holy family for failing to do it the legal way. We have hymns that extol the flight to Egypt, famous paintings depicting the harrowing journey and even influence on the von Trapp family through Maria August Trapp’s memoir made famous in The Sound of Music.
The now famous image of the mother running from tear gas with her children is haunting. I can’t help but to worry that the United States is becoming like Herod, ruthlessly maintaining a grasp on power. Our power apparently feels so threatened by women and toddlers that we must use teargas to keep them out.
As Christians, we have the unique ability to stand up and say that enough is enough. We worship Jesus who fled state-sanctioned violence after his birth. We must justly protect those who are marginalized rather than tear gassing them.
Think back to the scene at the beginning. Look at the picture of the mother herding her two children away from the tear gas behind them. Examine the actions of Joseph as he rushes to protect his family. This Advent season, imagine that’s you protecting your family from the horror of being tear gassed or the threat of imminent and constant violence against your child.
My prayer is that we find a way forward together, a way to remember that we are all created in the very image of God. I pray that God uses us as instruments of God’s divine justice to liberate the oppressed. I pray that we remember that once we were strangers in the land of Egypt as well. I pray that this Christmas is more than just a time for gift-giving, that it is a time of protecting those who desire to be protected.
John Mark Boes serves as the Partnerships and Advocacy Specialist for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.