The media recently carried news of school nativity productions with additional characters joining the manger scene, such as Elvis, footballers, starfish or sprouts. Whilst these characters do not appear in the biblical recounting of Jesus’ birth, they can provide an interesting and entertaining twist to the story.
Of course, if nativities strictly followed the Christmas story, audiences would have to wait a very long time for the three kings to arrive. The Bible describes them as arriving twelve days after Jesus was born, which Christians celebrate as Epiphany on January 6th. However doting a parent or grandparent we are, I cannot imagine most of us could wait twelve days for the children acting these characters to appear on stage.
It is only in Matthew’s Gospel that we learn about the visit by the Kings (also known as the Magi). King Herod, disturbed by news of the birth of Jesus, asked the Magi to find the baby Jesus and report back to him. But when the three Magi saw Jesus, they were ‘overjoyed’ and they worshipped him; they recognised he was indeed a king greater than any they had met before, and they left by a route that avoided King Herod.
With Christmas over, the Christmas tree packed away, wrapping paper in the recycling box and with New Year’s resolutions in hand, it is easy to forget what happened next to Jesus.
Joseph, Mary and Jesus do not return to their home comforts in Nazareth. They cannot just get on with their lives. Instead they have to flee Israel to escape the death threats of King Herod. Matthew Chapter 2 tells us that the young family remain in Egypt until Herod dies, at which point they can safely return to Israel.
Jesus was therefore a child refugee. If he was alive today, he would be one of around eight million child refugees, who along with a further nine million adult refugees have been forcibly displaced worldwide. These people flee violence, oppression, hunger and war. They flee to different countries, often to camps where physical conditions are terrible, because they have no other option.
In Jesus’ refugee status we see that God is present when humans suffer. God could have chosen to come to earth in human form and live amongst kings and leaders. Instead he chose to be born to a poor, vulnerable and displaced family.
Our political leaders, who are a world away from being poor, vulnerable and displaced, face re-election this May. As I suspect the news agenda for the early part of 2015 will be dominated by the General Election, I have two simple prayers. One is that those standing for election do not forget poor, vulnerable and displaced people. The second is that we, the electorate, engage fully in the political process, keeping in mind those who are without a voice.
Along with others, I am uneasy by some of the discourse of political leaders and candidates, about people in our society who are perceived to be ‘worthless’. I refer here (although not exclusively) to people with disabilities, families that work but remain below the breadline and must suffer the indignities of using Foodbanks, children born to ‘workless’ families whose life chances are curtailed by dint of their birth, those released from prison without the rehabilitation support they need, people who are homeless and people who have come to this country as economic immigrants or as refugees.
Each and every one of these people is considered precious by God and loved by God. In the Bible we discover that Jesus talked a lot about the blessedness of those who were homeless, sick, poor and disabled. In Matthew 25:37-40, Jesus explains that in feeding the hungry, welcoming the stranger and visiting the sick, we are helping Jesus himself and treating less fortunate people with the love and care that God bestows on everyone.
I believe that the majority of our MPs and county councillors are altruistic and honourable. Most have a genuine desire to serve their communities and most work hard to improve our society. But I am sad to say that there are some, who rather than accepting their responsibility for vulnerable people in society, seek instead to use them as scapegoats for the problems our country faces.
What can we do about that?
We must vote – if we do not vote and we do not engage with local and national politics we risk two things. We risk decisions being made by leaders who do not represent the people and who make decisions that put parts of our society at further disadvantage. Once you give up your democratic right to vote, you also give up your right to complain.
By not engaging with politics we also risk allowing vast sections of our shared life to be influenced by a minority voice derived from a small number of people – people with a fixed agenda, or a particular axe to grind. Before we know it, decisions are made based on a minority who wish to infuse their will on the majority and in the process our shared life is damaged.
So this New Year, as we celebrate the visit by the three kings and we reflect on the transformational impact that the vulnerable and poor baby Jesus had on these three rich leaders, I offer my two prayers.
I hope you will join me in praying that poor, vulnerable and displaced people are not forgotten by those standing for election, nor forgotten by those exercising their voting rights.
I wish you a blessed New Year