While there are many aspects of these stories that would be worth dwelling upon, this year I find that what stands out for me is the idea of families being uprooted. After finally living in one place for more than a year - the first time that's happened in nearly a decade for our family - we are experiencing a small taste of rootedness. This stability functions to highlight for us the uprooting of others. We are seeing millions of Ukrainians being uprooted through war. In our own community we are not infrequently experiencing a loss of those in the church through their need to move across Europe for work. While the world has always had wars and economic stressors, this year we are seeing these things in a different light.
At the heart of much of the uprooting we see in the Bible and in the world is the beast of empire. Egypt was seeking the best for her own people, even and especially at the cost of the lives of those who are other. Babylon and Assyria were seeking to make their names great through the acquisition of land, gold, and vassals. Today, Ukraine is experiencing the fangs of empire as Russia seeks wealth, renown, security, and control. And even some we know who are seeking employment out of country are doing so because of the way empires take advantage of labor in Romania, reminiscent of James's warning to employers in regard to providing fair wages. Injustice is everywhere, and wherever there is injustice there is alienation, because God's good home is where there is a community of shalom.
Yet in all of this injustice and homelessness, we Christians have hope in knowing that God is in control. We know that God guides even the hearts of kings (Proverbs 21:1) and we know that he works all things together for good to those who love him (Romans 8:28). We can see specific examples of this play out in stories like those of Joseph or Esther, even though we may not always see how God is working things out today. Those stories give us hope that, though we may not understand, God is with those who are without a home.
What I love even more than God telling us these stories of hope, is the fact that our God shows us hope by example. Our God doesn't lead, like a cowardly general, from the back. He leads from the front. God, in the person of Jesus, left his home, so that he could come and lead all of us there to be with him. It is no coincidence that the death of Jesus occurred at the time of Passover - a time commemorating the Exodus of Israel to a land they could call home. Jesus became homeless to lead us back home, because we are aliens and strangers in a world where power, control, and dominance abound - where empires create and perpetuate injustice. Jesus leads from the front and calls us to live in his Kingdom - a Kingdom without borders, and a Kingdom made not of erodible rock, but of living stones. We, the church, are the living stones of Jesus, built on top of him who is the ever living, chief cornerstone. Through our love and our lives as living sacrifices, we welcome all others who seek to enter into a home that is universal and perpetual, a home which can never be taken away.
As I dwell this year on the power and injustice of empire, and I compare that to the humble birth of Jesus and his rescue mission, I have to admit that the Exodus led by Jesus seems underwhelming. What is a life of sacrifice and death at the hands of enemies compared to rivers of blood and the parting of seas? On its face, the second exodus seems anticlimactic in comparison to the first. I think Percy Bysshe Shelley's poem "Ozymandias," probably my favorite poem ever, is helpful here. Shelley writes,
I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
Every empire from time immemorial has, like that statue of Ozymandias, weathered away into nothingness. Every victim of empire and injustice, as well as every citizen of empire, has eventually found themselves homeless in the face of some form of injustice or exile. But not so with the living Kingdom of God. When the Ukrainian refugees fled, many found that they had brothers and sisters living in Poland, Romania, Moldova, Germany, Hungary, and the United States. These brothers and sisters aren't moving across one border to another, from one empire to another. They are traveling within the borders of one Kingdom and one people, a Kingdom which is forever. Jesus has come and secured our exodus to the eternal Kingdom so that we will never be homeless again. This is an exciting truth which is becoming more real to us each day, and a truth which we seek to be made known to others.