‘HE CAME TO HIS OWN, AND HIS OWN DID NOT RECEIVE HIM.’
A week ago we celebrated Midnight Mass. After we had received Holy Communion the priest took the tiny figure of the baby Jesus from the altar and carried it to the crib in the Resurrection Chapel at the east end of our church. Everyone present followed singing ‘O come all ye faithful’.
When we arrived in the chapel we got quite a surprise because the crib was quite different from those in earlier years. If you are watching on our Facebook link you will see the crib, which I will briefly describe. The altar is covered with a dark cloth with large paper snowflakes on it. On the floor in front is an orange dingy like the boats used by asylum seekers when crossing the Channel from France to England. In the dingy are the figures of the Blessed Virgin Mary and St Joseph worshipping the Baby Jesus lying in front of them.
The dingy is on a blue cloth representing the sea. You can see the sandy shore on the left and a pile of dark rocks indicating a dangerous coast.
This is not a portrayal of a historical event. Although St Matthew’s Gospel does describe an occasion when Jesus and his apostles were crossing the Lake of Galilee and were caught in a storm and nearly capsized. But that is not the crib scene I described.
St Matthew’s Gospel does record that after the wise men had brought their gifts to Jesus St Joseph was warned in a dream that the baby was in danger. He was told to take the child and his mother Mary to Egypt and stay there until it was safe for them to return to Nazareth. So they were asylum seekers and tradition holds that they were welcomed in Egypt. It is likely that they travelled there on a donkey. So why depict the Holy Family in a dingy?
It is a Christmas picture though we do not see any angels or shepherds or kings. It is revealing a spiritual truth about the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. Jesus was and still is the beloved son of God the Father. Though he was always God he became truly human, like us in all respects except sin, so that we might become like him and become the adopted children of God.
So this world is not our true home but we are aliens seeking our true home with God in heaven. In a sense we are all asylum seekers as was Jesus and the Holy Family. This is not a new doctrine. It is a development of the doctrine of the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ. We can recognize it in the old idea that the Church is a ship like Noah’s ark taking us safely through the stormy seas of this life to a safe harbour in heaven. We live in a time when many, many people are on the move seeking safety from war, natural disasters and poverty for a better home. We are to recognize them as like God’s only Son Jesus Christ, who became incarnate to lead us to the promised land.