Image credit: Kelly Lattimore, artist
One of the dominant themes in all of what we refer to as the Old Testament is hospitality. And little wonder, since it largely recounts the story of the Hebrew people and their relationship with God, with each other, and with the world. If you know even only the very basic narratives, you are aware that Moses sojourned as a stranger in the land of Egypt to flee criminal charges. Later the whole nation of Israel, beginning with the sons of Jacob, became refugees in Egypt for hundreds of years due to severe famine back home but with relative plenty in Egypt. Hundreds of years after returning home through the Exodus and wandering in the wilderness for 40 years and rising to become an ancient near-eastern power, Israel’s influence again waned and they became exiles in Babylon for almost 200 more years, losing their Davidic monarchy, their land, and their blessings—three of the four promises of God’s earlier covenants with Israel.
Finally, in Matthew’s Gospel, after the Magi return home from their visit by another way to avoid the evil King Herod, an angel warns Joseph in a dream that the baby is in grave danger as he threatens Herod’s own status as “King of the Jews.” As Herod unthinkably slaughters all of the baby boys under two years old in an effort to slay the baby king, the Holy Family flees to Egypt and sojourns there, presumably for years—as refugees and asylum seekers, in fear for their very lives back home. Yes, in case you missed it, Jesus, Mary, and Joseph were, by any definition, refugees. My favorite artwork in my office from my travels around the world is a gift from our time in Tanzania depicting this Flight to Egypt—Mary and the baby on a donkey being led by Joseph away from Herod’s murderous spree (image to the right). This year’s NC Synod Christmas card depicts that same (more modern version) Holy Family’s flight to Egypt by artist Kelly Latimore; this post’s main image.
Dozens of times in the Old Testament, God, through prophets, admonishes God’s people of Israel to welcome the stranger and treat them as they would one of their own, because “you were once strangers in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 22:21 and many others). Just this past Sunday, the Epistle Lesson assigned for Advent 2A from Romans 15, verse 7 reminds us we are to “Welcome one another, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.”
This past spring we announced our special synod-wide emphasis and plea in conjunction with Lutheran Services Carolinas (LSC): The Bishop’s Challenge. In 2021, LSC resettled, in NC and SC, nearly 750 Afghan refugees, and now, in this Bishop’s Challenge—for which we hope 70% of NC Synod congregations (133) will participate in some way—we suspect that the overwhelming majority of those being resettled will be Ukrainians, with a few other nationalities sprinkled in from time to time. We hope, by the summer of 2023 in NC and SC through LSC, to help welcome 750, or possibly significantly more, Ukrainians to the Carolinas. Many of you already have active “Circles of Welcome” or have attended one of a half-dozen online meetings about ways to prepare to welcome families into your community or to partner with other congregations to do so. Some of you are even providing housing for a family! Ukrainian refugees are starting to arrive. You can read and learn more about how to participate by visiting the Bishop’s Challenge webpage. You can also host a Lutheran Services Carolinas “Be the Light” campaign in your congregation to raise money for this effort, which we encourage! Thanks to all who have already begun to join in this challenge.
Though refugee resettlement, like all current issues, has political implications, spin, and polarization, our motivation and conviction in welcoming those in need is biblical, theological, and personal. Welcome and hospitality to strangers is foundational to the whole biblical story. We have the resources and the calling to be welcomers now in a fractured and hurting world, even as we pray that, were we the ones fleeing our homes and countries in fear for our children’s lives, someone somewhere would welcome us with kindness and hospitality. Most profoundly, we know that Christ welcomes all in love and compassion and calls us to do the same. Join us, won’t you?