Jesus the Migrant
The word “Christmas” brings popular images of Santa Claus, Carols, New Clothes, Cakes, Drinks, Dances and Feasts to the mind. All such images are expressions of celebration. But what we are celebrating is an event and message of much serious matters. One insight on the significance of the birth of Jesus comes from the hasty migration of Joseph and Mary with the baby Jesus to Egypt. They were fleeing from the wrath of King Herod who ordered that all Jewish male children up to two years of age in Bethlehem and its vicinity be killed. The reason for this massacre was Herod’s fear that a child had been born in Bethlehem about whom some wise men predicted that he would become the King of the Jews. Herod did not want his political authority and power to be challenged and dethroned. Therefore he thought it best to nip the threat in the bud, and get the new born king killed. Since he did not know who this baby king was, he ordered that all male Jewish children up to the age of two years be put to the sword. Therefore Joseph and Mary thought it best to flee to Egypt and protect baby Jesus’ life. They became migrant refugees.
We are celebrating this Christmas in a worldwide scenario of refugees and migrations. Risking death by sea or on foot, more than half a million have fled the destruction of their homes and persecution in the northern Rakhine province of Myanmar (Burma) for neighbouring Bangladesh since August 2017. The United Nations described the military offensive in Rakhine, which provoked the exodus, as a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing”. The situation in Iraq, Syria and West Asia is equally distressing. The collapse of Iraq’s central government when Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was overthrown left minorities vulnerable. Some 1.3 million Iraqi Christians – 75 percent of the pre-war Christian population – were driven into exile or killed. Most are now still displaced, many in makeshift refugee camps. ISIS and other Islamic militants cited religious justifications to murder Christian men and boys, and to enslave, rape, and sex traffic Christian women and girls. Is it any wonder that so many Christians fled?
Indeed, there are now an estimated 258 million people living in a country other than their country of birth — an increase of 49% since 2000 — according to new figures released by UN DESA. Migrations take place not because of political reasons only. There are migrations which are enforced by governments and MNCs in the name of economic development. Tribals and adivasis are forced out of their homelands so that the natural mineral wealth of their land could be exploited for globalization designs and strategies. While the rich enjoy the feast of globalization and the middle class relish its crumbs, the poor, particularly poor indigenous people and dalits are pushed out from the banqueting halls of globalization. Either no compensation or inadequate compensation is given to them. They are deprived of their Jal, Jungle and Jameen, their homeland, livelihood and identity.
Socio-economic factors are also responsible for enforced migration. Child-trafficking is a very serious concern. In addition to bonded labor, some children are subjected to forced labor as factory and agricultural workers, carpet weavers, domestic servants, and beggars. Begging ringleaders sometimes maim children to earn more money. Some NGOs and media report girls are sold and forced to conceive and deliver babies for sale. So also, children are victims of sex trafficking in India, particularly in religious pilgrimage centers and in tourist destinations. Thus children are taken away from their parents and homeland; there are enforced migrants. There are also politicized religious causes of migrations. Religious minorities are made to flee by religious extremists, who claim that people belonging to their particular religious tradition only are the rightful citizens of the country. Others are branded as aliens and anti-nationals. Their worship places and houses are destroyed, they are subject to physical assaults, they are falsely charged and imprisoned by the law, their institutions are being sought to be taken over – the list of atrocities is long! A fear psychosis is created and they are being compelled to migrate, to become refugees.
The birth of Jesus signifies God’s identity, solidarity and accompaniment with migrants, refugees, the undocumented, the excluded, indeed all vulnerable people, including persons with disability and people of gender and sexual diversity. Hence the Christmas message is as recorded in Phil.2:4-8
Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross.
Rev. Dr. Roger Gaikwad
General Secretary, NCCI.