13When [the magi] had departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you. Herod is going to search for the child to destroy him.” 14Joseph rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed for Egypt. 15He stayed there until the death of Herod, that what the Lord had said through the prophet might be fulfilled, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”
19When Herod had died, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt 20and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child’s life are dead.” 21He rose, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. 22But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go back there. And because he had been warned in a dream, he departed for the region of Galilee. 23He went and dwelt in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, “He shall be called a Nazorean.”
The Holy Family and the Families of Migrants
Today’s feast highlights Christmas as a celebration of the family—in both theological and socio-cultural senses. It is a theological celebration because it involves God who sent his beloved Son to “make his dwelling” among human beings, to become incarnate and, thus, to be truly a part of the human family. God is not just “the Father from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named” (Eph 3:15). In sending his Son Jesus to form a family with Joseph and Mary, God has truly become a family member!
Christmas is also a socio-cultural celebration. Apart from weddings and funerals, at no other time of the year do Filipinos gather as families than at Christmas. As the season draws near, our airports, piers, and bus terminals teem with people going the same direction—home. Balikbayans are veritable Christmas trees: they come home loaded with gifts and goodies. For those who cannot come home, the season becomes particularly poignant. Christmas exposes most keenly the “lights and shadows” of Filipino families, their joys and hopes, their sorrows and anxieties.
Matthew tells us that the Holy Family also has its share of lights and shadows. The bright side comes with the arrival of the Magi who pay homage to Jesus and bring him gifts. The dark side is presented in today’s Gospel: the Holy Family is forced to flee Bethlehem to escape the murderous design of King Herod. It becomes a family of migrants.
The flight into Egypt recalls Pharaoh’s persecution of God’s people and the birth of Moses who would someday lead the people into freedom. Thus, the Child Jesus embodies and experiences the exodus story of Israel. Someday, like Moses, he will save his people—from the slavery of sin.
The experience of the Holy Family calls special attention to a particular group of families—the families of migrants. The phenomenon of migrant workers touches Filipino families because some 8 million of our people are working abroad. Newsweek (Oct. 4, 2004) refers to Filipinos as “workers for the world” and examines the cost of the absence of one parent or both parents on family life and children. While labor migration serves as an economic stopgap for our beleaguered economy, it also exacerbates the country’s social problems, including juvenile delinquency and marital breakups.
Among local migrants are the families of those obliged to be away for long periods, such as members of the armed forces and sailors. There are families with no home; families discriminated against for cultural, political, or religious reasons; and families of prisoners and outcasts.
Pope John Paul II writes in his apostolic exhortation Familiaris Consortio (n 77) that the families of migrants should be able to find a “homeland” everywhere in the Church. It is the task of the people of God to look after them, and to appeal especially to government agencies to see to it that migrant workers find employment, that they are reunited with their families, that they are respected in their cultural identity, and that their children are given the chance to learn a trade and practice it.
Charity begins at home. Even as we pray and contribute our share for the betterment of Filipino migrants, let us open our eyes and hearts to the conditions of “migrants” among us. We entrust each family to Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. Because Jesus himself knew the vicissitudes of a family in exile, we have in him a merciful Lord who sympathizes with the plight of our families.