This article was originally published by Mennonite World Review

Powell: Welcome the unwanted

Can we really celebrate the birth of Christ?

John Powell

We are worn down by the horrors that have held us captive. Mass executions by gun violence, rampant discrimination and potential nuclear war have put us on edge. Sound bites of pundits keep churning in our heads. No one will be silenced!

We are in a cultural war where no one wins.

An unsettling environment existed at the birth of Jesus also. There was Roman oppression, and the religious establishment was coopted.

The night Jesus was born must have been a joy for Joseph and Mary. They probably had endured community gossip. But God had spoken! They were to be the parents of the Messiah. They probably kept saying to each other, “weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:5).

Joseph wasn’t wealthy. He probably had just enough money to pay for a room the night Jesus was born. The inn was filled. But the innkeeper was hospitable and provided a space for the King to be born in the stable.

Hospitality is a prime ingredient of The Christ event. In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus’ birth is followed by migration to a foreign land. Herod sought to kill baby Jesus, but Joseph sought refuge in Egypt, where they found hospitality. The family was accepted and lived in safety even though they were foreigners and strangers. They resided in that land until it was safe to return to their homeland (Matt. 2:13-15).

I wonder what the border crossing was like. Did they experience intensive interrogation? Obviously they didn’t encounter the wrath of a foreigner. If Egypt hadn’t been hospitable, Herod would probably have found Jesus and killed him. We would not have had our Christian faith.

I recently heard a person say, “Come, Lord, Jesus!” Jesus has come, but many have rejected him. Immigrants are like the holy family who fled to Egypt seeking refuge.

They are unwanted in some communities. We have been told that they are rapists and murderers who come to take away our livelihoods. They seek safety just as Joseph, Mary and Jesus sought safety. They believe that we care.

Are we a welcoming nation for immigrants?

U.S. government actions say “no.” There’s been an increase in deportations and a decrease in immigration. The Supreme Court has let stand the government’s ban on immigrants from some Middle Eastern countries that have been deemed bedrocks for terrorism. Additional countries are being considered, including those in Latin America. The Reforming American Immigration for Strong Employment Act has been introduced in Congress. It is a “30-point, merit-based” system primarily aimed at economic enhancement for the wealthy.

Is this hospitable?

During this holy season, I encourage you to be particularly welcoming and hospitable to undocumented people and refugees in your surroundings. If there aren’t any, connect to others who are struggling to be hospitable.

When you wake up on Dec. 25, you can truly celebrate Christ’s birth because you have found a way to be a sanctuary presence for marginalized immigrants. They and you can echo the words Joseph and Mary might have spoken: “Weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.”

You may find that your faith and hope, and theirs, for the future is rekindled.

Then, rejoice!

John Powell, of Ypsilanti, Mich., has worked as a pastor, preacher and teacher in Mennonite churches and institutions.

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