The Christmas story is a story about refugees.
Shortly after Jesus’s birth, as told in the book of Matthew, an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream and warned him that Herod would seek to destroy the baby, and that the family should flee to Egypt. When Joseph woke up, he followed the angel’s directions by taking Mary and Jesus to safety.
Herod, according to Matthew, killed all the boys in Bethlehem under the age of two, a massacre now observed each Dec. 28 as Feast of the Holy Innocents. Jesus was spared because he was safely away from danger in Egypt.
The flight to Egypt is one of history’s best known refugee stories, but too many modern readers fail to see the relevance it still has on modern life. Jesus calls us to be welcoming and merciful to foreigners.
Contrary to that message, modern history provides plenty of examples of Americans — Christians or otherwise — showing contempt for immigrants and refugees.
During his tenure in office, President Donald Trump has drastically reduced the number of refugees allowed to be admitted to the United States. In effect, Trump has unilaterally destroyed the United States’ reputation as a beacon for freedom and opportunity.
Iowans who are disturbed by the coarsening attitude toward foreigners can take action by asking candidates for federal office to support policies that allow for more immigration and accept more refugees. At least as important, we can act at the local level to ensure newcomers to our communities get the support they need.
One particularly powerful example of local action is the Catherine McAuley Center in Cedar Rapids, which is the only refugee resettlement agency in Eastern Iowa. The organization also offers crucial language learning services to people who are new to the country. The center currently is raising funds to complete work on a new facility set to open next year.
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Dozens of other organizations in Eastern Iowa are dedicated to serving our most vulnerable neighbors, including food pantries, homeless shelters, domestic violence programs, crisis centers and human rights advocates. All of those causes and others are worthy of our financial support, volunteer time and advocacy efforts during the holidays and all year long.
In the spirit of Christmas, extend love and support to refugees and immigrants. That is the true reason for the season.
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