An early Christmas legend tells of a spider which, wanting to help assure the safety of the Christ Child on the flight to Egypt to escape King Herod’s murderous soldiers, spun a web across the entrance to a cave where the Holy Family took refuge outside Bethlehem.
As Scottish scholar William Barclay recounts the tale in his commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, the soldiers who inspected the site said, “’Look - a spider web. No one entered here recently’. So they left. The next morning the spider web glistened with drops of dew. In honor of the spider web we place tinsel on our Christmas trees.”
Photo by Jennifer Silver
The spider in the legend contributed to God’s salvation story, helped to save the Savior. Can we each be such a spider this Christmas? If you don’t like spiders, then a Spiderman or Spiderwoman for someone, not swinging from skyscrapers but weaving a web of tenderness and compassion for someone in this time and place?
Jesus in Matthew’s nativity story, found in Chapter 2, stands in the biblical tradition of liberation. But unlike the story of Moses, who led the Hebrew people out of slavery in Egypt through a violent campaign, the life and ministry of Jesus was one of peace and non-violence. This was the case from the beginning, in response to King Herold’s attempt to kill him, a plot that forced Mary and Joseph to become refugees in Egypt.
Jesus’ model as Prince of Peace is the one for Christians to follow today, even in a world built on violence, might and the right of the stronger. This is the challenging message of Christmas.
The Christmas story in Matthew includes both the escape of Jesus and his parents into Egypt, as well as their return after those who would have killed the child had died. In this way, scripture points to resurrection, to new life in God’s promise. Those who tried to kill you are dead.
We continue at Global Ministries a focus on refugees this Christmas. Last year, we joined with the Ginghamsburg United Methodist Church in Ohio in producing “Beyond Bethlehem,” a video on the light of migrants today, notably those displaced by the conflicts in Syria and other parts of the Middle East.
This segment ends with the reminder that Jesus shared our humanity, including fear, threat, and displacement.
That Jesus was a refugee, a migrant, has relevance to the church’s ministry today. I quote from African Bible commentary on Matthew 2:19, which states in part:
“God was not ashamed to let his son become a refugee, By sharing the plight of stateless refugees, Jesus honored all those who suffer homelessness on account of war, famine, persecution or some other disaster….”
“The sad thing is that far too many Christians are either unconcerned or believe the lie that every refugee is a troublemaker. Yet the Bible is full of men and women who knew what it meant to be refugees: Abraham, Moses and Jacob, as well as the whole nation of Israel in Egypt and Babylonia. God not only identifies with those who are suffering this particular plight, but he also uses people from among the landless and stateless.” [Africa Bible Commentary: A One-Volume Commentary Written by 70 African Scholars, Zondervan Press, 2010]
*Adapted from a sermon at a Global Ministries' Christmas celebration on December 1, 2016. Thomas Kemper is the general secretary of the worldwide mission and development agency.