#5 Christmas 2013: Escape to Egypt

simbang-gabi-reflections-2013bMatthew 2:13-14 narrates, “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.”

Of the stories around the birth and infancy of Jesus, which are the themes of our reflection during this season, I chose to share my reflections the so-called “Escape to Egypt.” I did so for two reasons.

One, as an immigrant, and a Pastor whose ministry has a special focus on immigrants, it resonates with me. Crossing borders is my experience and the experience of the majority of my parishioners in MCC Las Vegas.

Two, leaving one’s country due to adverse circumstances, and being unable to come back until the situation changes is a shared experience of many in our country. It is what many of us have to do.

For many, that situation is economic. Material poverty is our Herod. We endure being away from home and family for as long as we need to support them financially and, hopefully, save some for ourselves when the time comes for us to retire.

In my case, when I left the Philippines in 1994, my Herod was spiritual poverty. I had just finished my Master’s in Divinity, but the investment I made in time and money, to learn Hebrew and Greek, preaching skills, the Bible and theology still left my spirit inadequately nourished.

I wasn’t fully conscious at the time, but looking back, a big reason for me to leave for the United States was the thirst for resources and support that will help me reconcile my spirituality with my sexuality, a very important part of MCC’s ministry.

Since then, much have changed for the better. Now there are several vibrant MCC congregations in the Philippines, with very gifted leaders. There are also non-MCC churches that are welcoming of LGBT folk. My Herod, the virtually unchallenged hegemony of anti-LGBT religion has died. Thanks in good part to your courage, commitment and compassion, expressed in creating and sustaining a safe and nurturing space for LGBT persons of faith, and actively raising voices of protest against oppressive structures.

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My experience has showed that God cares enough for us to send us an angel to prompt us to escape a situation which threatens to kill the vulnerable Christ-child in us: The seed that will grow to bear the spiritual fruit of “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and self-control”(Galatians 5:22). and the word that will take flesh in order to “proclaim good news to the poor and freedom to those who are oppressed.” (Luke 4:18)

At the time I made my escape, I felt I had to journey thousands of miles for a safe space. Thank God, this is no longer the case. Folks who find themselves in the situation I was in almost 20 years ago can flee to a safe space in Quezon City, in Marikina, in Baguio, In Manila, and in Makati in one of our local churches. They can even find spiritual resources and support online.

430687_10150581088517721_1912202280_nJorgen Moltmann wrote in his book, “A Theology of Hope,” that the locus of hope is not simply in the future. When the prophets gave a vision of a promise, they accompanied it with stories of God’s faithfulness in the past.

Many still need to flee oppressive situations, but we know God’s angel will point them to a sanctuary. We know this because we ourselves are a part of creating and guarding that safe space. We were there to welcome those who ran in for refuge. They fled, in order to protect the Christ-Child in each of them. And we witnessed how God protected them and provided for them. We have experienced God’s faithfulness first hand, and this is why we can hope.

Written by Ptr. George Balgan, MCC Las Vegas