(This article first appeared in the December issue of the Anglican Journal.)
At the heart of Christmasis The Child, that “holy infant, so tender and mild,” the Son of God, cradled in the loving arms of Mary and guarded by the loving watch of Joseph.
In Luke’s gospel, this is the image of The Holy Family: safe and secure in a manger behind an inn in Bethlehem. Shepherds adore The Child and angels sing. In Matthew’s gospel, this is the image of The Holy Family: unsafe and on the run. Magi gift The Child, and angels warn of Herod’s plot to find and destroy him. Joseph abides by the instruction to “take the Child and his mother and flee to Egypt” (2:13) and to remain there until it is safe to return. When they can, they settle in Nazareth, in the region of Galilee.
As we prepare to celebrate the birth of this Holy Child whom we know as Lord of Life and Prince of Peace, we remain ever- mindful of the millions of refugees who are fleeing the rage of their oppressors. They carry little more than their children. Sadly, some of them have to leave their elderly behind. All of them bear the scars of trauma through the atrocities they have witnessed, including the relentless bombings of their cities, the merciless targeting of hospitals and the blocking of convoys carrying humanitarian aid. Most of them know they will never return.
Many of those seeking refuge in other countries have boarded vessels and made treacherous voyages across the Mediterranean Sea, enduring overcrowded conditions and the danger of sinking. Many have survived shipwreck. So many others have not. The wreckage of these boats has washed up on the shores of the Italian Island of Lampedusa. It is a destination point for those seeking refuge in Europe. Moved by the immense suffering and the great hope against all odds of those who have taken this voyage, local carpenter Francesco Tuccio started picking up pieces of wood from this debris and making crosses. They are absolutely amazing. They are not evenly proportioned and bear many colours and many nail holes. They are neither fine nor finished. They are rough, ragged, weather-beaten and worn. Each is a sacred piece of work, crafted out of a heart of mercy and love for those who are so vulnerable and valiant, so strong in their hope for a better future. Francesco has made hundreds of these crosses, which are finding their way around the world.
The formal description of this Lampedusa Cross reminds us that it is “a sign of the plight of refugees…and the call to the church to respond with the death- defying compassion of Christ.”
This Christmas, let us pray for all refugees-those on the run and those in camps, those on the high seas and those at border crossings. Let us give thanks for all nations that have enabled their resettlement. Let us rejoice in all those who open their hearts and hands to welcome and accompany them in a new life.
I commend all of you who have done this very thing this year. Thank you for the love, generosity and friendship you have shown in the name of him whose birth we celebrate and whose own refuge we remember, Jesus our Lord.