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“God’s Help for a Refugee’s Running”

Jan.8/17 Matthew 2:13-23


Our denomination, the Evangelical Missionary Church of Canada, partners in the cause of refugee sponsorship with the Christian & Missionary Alliance Church, or C&MA. In June 2015, the first refugee family sponsored by the C&MA was resettled in British Columbia. Glenda Friesen spearheaded the effort and tells the following story.

      “In October 2014, I heard about a refugee program on Context with Lorna Dueck. I contacted the refugee sponsorship coordinator at the C&MA’s National Ministry Centre and learned that we needed to form a committee. Once a committee was formed, we met a few times to discuss how the sponsorship would be financed, and who would be responsible for each item in the settlement plan.

We then brought this opportunity to the church’s attention, and everyone unanimously agreed to bring a refugee family to Canada; that was on March 3. On April 20, we chose to sponsor Solomon and Kidusan, siblings from Eritrea, a country in the horn of Africa. Within two weeks of submitting our settlement plan, we were approved to sponsor them.

Being a rural community, we wondered how we would communicate with them because they only spoke Tigrinya. We soon met with a local pastor who came from Ethiopia, and to our delight, he also spoke Tigrinya!

Our list of needs was quickly filled, as God provided in perfect time to arrange this sponsorship;

• A couple from our church donated a car.

• A trailer became available on June 1, and they arrived June 25.

• I was given a box of free kitchen supplies at a garage sale.

• Money was donated from the settlement of a will.

To prepare for their arrival, our young people studied Eritrea in their Sunday school class and presented the information to the church to help us know more about the country and its history and customs. We also had a leader welcome us in Tigrinya for a few Sundays.

The siblings arrived safely less than four months after we made this commitment. They are very happy to be here and are adjusting to living in the countryside. We welcomed them with a Sunday school picnic with food, games, and soccer.

They have also connected with a group of people who are from Ethiopia; it is great that Solomon and Kidusan can have friends that speak their own language, and they both have started English lessons. They are a wonderful pair of siblings who have suffered much and can now have a new start.”

      Through this church group, the Lord’s people provided a new home and hope for a fresh start for two people who would have been left in grim circumstances otherwise.

      Today’s gospel lesson tells about another set of refugees: the Holy Family, that is, Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus. Now, with it being so soon after Christmas, we may have doesticated images of a cosy stable in our mind, but it was about to be a time of prolonged upheaval and uprooting for the trio. Their first months, perhaps years, reflect the displacement of many in the world today.


First let’s set the stage a bit. You may recall the Magi who came from the east to worship the newborn king of the Jews stopped at Jerusalem to make inquiry. King Herod consulted the chief priests and scribes, who informed him that Bethlehem was where it was prophesied the Messiah would be born. Herod relayed this information to the Magi, with the stipulation that they report back to him the exact location so that he too could go and worship the newborn ruler. But the Magi were warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, and returned home another way.

      If there was one thing Herod couldn’t stand, it was a potential threat to his security. He routinely killed off anyone whom he suspected might be plotting to overthrow him. One reference (Zondervan Pictorial Bible Dictionary) states, “Herod was a cruel and implacable tyrant.His family and private life was soiled and embittered by feuds, intrigue, and murder. The king’s sister salome seems to have been in league with Herod’s son Aintipater by Doris, his first consort, against Mariamne...the king’s favourite wife. Marimane was put to death in 29BC, and her two sons...in 7 BC. Antipater himself was put to death by Herod in the last days of his reign.” The Roman emperor Augustus at one point said it was better to be Herod’s so than his son, for the sow had a better chance of life. (Robertson’s Word Pictures on 2:16)

      So we come to one of the sadder and more tragic verses in the New Testament, Matthew 2:16: “When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.” Being deluded by the Magi proved deadly for many, perhaps 15 or 20 infants in the area, it’s estimated. The word translated “furious” translates terms in the Greek meaning “exceeding wrath”.

      The Bible does not sugar-coat or try to downplay or ignore the reality of human-devised evil in the world. This event echoes the destruction we hear about in international news reports daily. Syria is shattered as its leader struggles to hang onto power, even if it means entire cities are devastated. ISIS creates mass graves, and bombs markets of Shia Muslims even though its own devotees are Muslims, too.

      Formidable as human evil is, it does not mean God is not sovereign, or that He is taken by surprise by our most criminal and wicked deeds. God is not the author of sin, yet the degree of freedom He allows means those with evil intent can still do much that is horrendous. Gospel-writer Matthew sees the slaughter of the Bethlehem baby boys foreshadowed in writings from centuries earlier in the Old Testament: Matthew 2:17f, “Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled: "A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more."” Ramah was a border fortress of Judah where captives were assembled by the generals of Nebuchadnezzar after the fall of Jerusalem in 586 BC. Rachel was the mother of Joseph and Benjamin, favourite wife of Jacob, grandmother of Ephraim and Manasseh, the two most prominent tribes in the northern part of Israel, whose tomb was near Bethlehem, so she symbolizes the nation mourning its dead, its devastation.

      Whatever grief or disappointment you may be experiencing, whatever stress or loss you’re going through, the Lord understands. Jesus made the point in Matthew 10:29, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father.” The Psalmist, aghast at the deceit and intrigues of his enemies, nevertheless prayed: Psalm 5:4-6 “You are not a God who takes pleasure in evil; with you the wicked cannot dwell.The arrogant cannot stand in your presence; you hate all who do wrong.You destroy those who tell lies; bloodthirsty and deceitful men the LORD abhors.” Judgment awaits us all, high or low. Sometimes great power and high office is associated with great transgression and major tragedy. But the Lord is keeping track.


God knows what’s in a ruler’s heart; Herod’s reaction to the Magi’s news did not take the Lord by surprise. Proverbs 21:1 states, “The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD; he directs it like a watercourse wherever he pleases.” So before Herod could carry out his criminal plan, God alerted Joseph to remove the newborn Saviour from danger. Mt 2:13-15a “When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream."Get up," he said, "take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt.Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him." So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod.”

      Most English translations of 2:13 say that the angel told Joseph to “escape” or to “flee” to Egypt. The verb in the Greek is pheugo, “to flee away, seek safety by flight”. That sound “pheugo” is related to our word “refugee” through the Latin “fugere” meaning “to flee”. So another way to render it would be to have the angel say, “Take the child and his mother and become a refugee in Egypt.”

      Think of the surprise this must have caused Joseph. He had come from Nazareth to Bethlehem to register in the census for Caesar’s taxation purposes. He hadn’t packed to take an extended trip out of the country! A one-way ticket – no definite end of the sojourn in sight. What resources would he use? What was it the Magi had given as gifts? Gold, frankincense, myrrh...Could it be their mission had been to provide for the Holy Family’s next stage of the journey, which Joseph had not foreseen? God provided the resources Joseph and Mary needed at the very time they would require them, not two steps before.


Matthew doesn’t see this change in plans as something that takes God by surprise. Indeed, the gospel writer immediately harkens back to a prophesy of Hosea, who lived about the middle of the 8th century BC. Mt 2:15b “And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: "Out of Egypt I called my son."”

      This originally applied to God delivering the Hebrew slaves out of the land of Egypt under the leadership of Moses, about 1446 BC. But Matthew sees it as Jesus going down to Egypt as Jacob and 70-odd souls went there during a famine, in vulnerability and weakness, coming forth in the millions many decades later. Theologians call this Jesus “recapitulating” the history of His people, coming to identify with them, walk in their shoes, revisit their personal story. Jesus identifies with you wherever you’re at. He knows your weakness, your struggles, your challenges. This is part of the wonder of the Incarnation, that Christ the Son of God takes on our humanness so He can relate fully. A New Testament writer explains it this way. Heb 2:14,16f “Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death— that is, the devil...For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants. For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.”

      Isn’t it reassuring to realize Jesus can relate to the struggles and trials you’re going through? Your Redeemer knows your risks, what’s worrying and threatening you. He came to identify with you and save you.

      Jesus identifies even with those who are misunderstood, those whom the world despises or scorns. Think for a moment about the location where the Holy Family ends up. Mt 2:23 “and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth.So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets: "He will be called a Nazarene."” What’s so special about Nazareth? ABSOLUTELY NOTHING! It was an obscure village at a crossroads of some trade routes. It wasn’t even in the main part of Judea, it was up in the outback, the hick-region of Galilee. It was never mentioned in the Old Testament. Nazareth was despised by many Jews. See for example Nathanael’s reaction when told by Philip of Jesus’ supposed origins in John 1:46: “"Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?" Nathanael asked.”

      The Jewish religious leaders dismissed Jesus because (to their knowledge) He didn’t come from an important town, He didn’t have the right “connections”; to them, He was a nobody. Despised, scorned. So it was prophesied of the Messiah: Psalm 22:6f “But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by men and despised by the people. All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads...” And Isaiah 53:3 “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.”

      Which end of the nose do you live at? Do you look down your nose at others, being quick to judge, to “dis” those who maybe smell a bit off or don’t come from the right background? Or do you feel people are always looking down at you, despising and discounting you, you’re invisible to them? Jesus as a native of Nazareth found Himself fighting an uphill battle to get acceptance, so He can relate to the underdog moreso than the cultural power-brokers.


Have you ever thought about Jesus beginning his life as a refugee before? Might it change how you think about refugees in the world today?

      The unsettlement and concern they face is reflected in Joseph’s quandary upon coming out of Egypt. There was a new threat, another significant fear, a big risk looming. Mt 2:19-22 “After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, "Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead." So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee...” Herod’s son proved to be a violent man who began his reign by slaughtering 3,000 influential people! No wonder Joseph was afraid! Archelaus botched the office so badly he was banished 9 years later, and the Romans substituted their own directly-appointed governors instead (including eventually Pontius Pilate).

      Many people around the world have to cope with fear and uncertainty as refugees on a daily basis. The United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR.org) reports [graphic - Figures at a Glance], “An unprecedented 65.3 million people around the world have been forced from home.Among them are nearly 21.3 million refugees, over half of whom are under the age of 18...Nearly 34,000 people are forcibly displaced every day as a result of conflict or persecution.” Over half - 53% - of refugees worldwide come from just 3 countries: Syria, Afghanistan, and Somalia.

      A graphic showing highlights from 2015 is titled, “Forced Displacement Hits a Record High”. The war in Syria produced 4.9 million registered refugees. Conflict in Burundy forced 221,600 people to flee to neighbouring countries. South Sudan produced 162,000 new refugees amid worsening conflict. Then there are the internally displaced: 2.5 million people in Yemen, and 2.2 million in northern Nigeria due to violence and human rights abuses. A million refugees and migrants crossed the Mediterranean, with nearly 4,000 drowning or going missing.

      But there are some bright spots here, too. Lebanon hosted 183 refugees for every 1000 residents: think about it, that’s about 1 in 5! The United States admitted 66,500 refugees for resettlement; Canada, 20,000; and Australia resettled 9,000.

      [C&MA infographic] As mentioned at the outset, our denomination partners with the C&MA in helping refugees. About 400 refugees were assisted over 4 years (2013-2016), mainly from Syria, Eritrea, Iraq, and Pakistan. The C&MA webpage on Refugee Sponsorship shows a variety of churches across Ontario that have already become involved. There is also a Refugee Fund you can give towards which supports local churches who are participating in refugee sponsorship resettlement; this fund is a safety reserve for sponsoring groups to apply for unexpected financial emergencies outside of the resettlement budget.


I’d like to close today with the story of another family that was resettled in 2016 from Pakistan eventually to the Niagara area.

The Samuels family comprises of parents Samuel and Nasreen, and three children: Danish, Sarish, and Sheeza. They’re a Christian family whose livelihood consisted of selling painted glass bottles with Bible verses on them to other Christian homes and churches. The glasses are given away for free to families who cannot afford to buy them. On Oct 15, 2013, Danish and his friend were selling these painted glasses to Christian homes. The next day, some men approached them and asked if they gave these bottles to their family members the previous day.

Then the men started yelling at them, accusing them of proselytizing their families. They started to beat the boys and broke all the painted glass bottles. Thankfully, a few people intervened and they managed to escape.

A couple of days after this incident, Danish was at church and received a call from his mother to not come home. The police were looking for him and his friend because someone filed a complaint against them.

Danish and his friend had to flee to Islamabad, where they stayed with his friend’s uncle. Danish was still not safe staying within the country, so they applied for visas to Thailand. Thankfully, they received them.

Danish and his friend arrived in Thailand on December 6, 2013. His parents and sisters were targeted by the same people who confronted Danish, and it was becoming difficult for them to get out of the house. They lived in fear.

After his sisters were threatened and touched inappropriately, Danish’s parents and sisters decided to join him in Thailand in early 2015.

While in Thailand, they were arrested a number of times and Danish’s mother was placed in an immigration detention centre until the UNHCR intervened.

Meanwhile in Canada, in October 2015, five Niagara-area churches partnered together to sponsor the Samuels family(Glengate Alliance Church, Niagara Falls International Ministries, Niagara Christian Community Church, Grace Gospel Church, and Niagara Region Christian Community Church). After all necessary processing and screening, the family finally arrived in Canada in September 2016 and was hosted to a reception by the church and its sponsorship team.

Samuel's family regularly enjoys worshipping with Niagara Falls International Ministries. They have become an integral part of the church community. Danish plays the drums, Sarish and Sheeza sing, and Samuel plays tambourine.

Danish and his sisters are picking up English faster than their parents, but they still need a minimum of one year of ESL classes.

When asked if they miss their home country, the family members responded with big grins on their faces, “Not at all. This is our country now. Canada is home. God has blessed us with a safer, newer home and even family.”

      Let’s pray.