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. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.” (Matt.2:14-15).
As we continue the conversation of the reconciling work of God in Jesus Christ which resulted in the Incarnation and what we celebrate at Christmas, it would be pertinent to notice a particular reoccurrence in the story of God’s people. This connection is essential for the equality conversation re people of color and women of color, as it provides a reference point for how to view and interact with people of different cultures when it comes to Christianity.
Oftentimes, people of non-Western cultures are perceived as being antithetical to Christianity, as though Christianity is a religion that originated from the West or had its roots in the West. To show that this is neither biblical nor helpful to the Christian conversation on equality for people/women of color in Christian circles, we will look at the relationship between God’s people and a certain group of people of color – Egyptians.
From the time of Abraham, Egypt always played an important and central role in the God’s plan for redemption. Although there was a major negative appearance, Egypt was not always a negative reference point in God’s story of redemption.
On the contrary, God often designated Egypt as a place of refuge for His people during periods of threat to their existence.
If one wonders why Egypt features so prominently in many of our Redemption stories, one only needs look to the origin of Egypt – Egypt was the grandson of Noah (Gen.10:6) and therefore, a descendant of the family from which the Christian Gospel story takes its shape.
Thus, it’s no wonder then that Abraham and Sarah sought refuge from the famine in their land by sojourning to and dwelling in Egypt for a while (Gen.12).
God promised part of Egyptian land to Abraham (Gen.15:18).
Some descendants of Abraham married Egyptian women (Gen.21:21).
Joseph, father of one of the tribes of Israel, was sold as a slave to Egypt, but later became Prime Minister of Egypt (Gen.39).
It was after the foregoing that a pharaoh who ‘did not know Joseph’ and thus the history of the Israelites and Egypt, enslaved the Israelites in order to contain their development and growth because he perceived these as threats to the flourishing of Egypt.
God responds to this dehumanization of the Israelites with the greatest show down in all of human history. The result is the birth of the nations of Israel, existing on their own turf and land, but not before Egypt had provided refuge for the promised ‘Deliverer,’ Moses.
However, it is not long after Jesus is born, that Egypt resurfaces again – as a place of refuge for the Messiah and his earthly family as they fled to escape the threat on the Messiah’s life.
Egypt gave refuge to the Messiah when his own countrymen sought to destroy his life!
Throughout history, God maintained a relationship with Egypt that was sometimes positive and sometimes negatives. Sometimes He sent His people there to obtain refuge. Other times He called them out of there to pursue and establish His purposes for humanity.
Today, Egypt features as one of those people of color demographics that equally strikes fear in the hearts of those who don’t know their history. So that, much like many people of color groups, they symbolize an ‘unknown’ culture that is wrongly perceived as antithetical to the Christian (and Western claims of/on the Christian) faith. This ought not to be so.
The Bible’s particular practice of naming lands and historical places is to maintain connection between God’s work in the world among all peoples. Without paying attention to these historical references in the Scriptures we disconnect some people groups from the Christian story and this makes it easy to perceive them as ‘outsiders’ to the Christian story of redemption, rather than as fellow participants, even if their participation was sometimes negative (although, no more negative than the many activities of the Israelites themselves!).
People of color groups are widely featured in biblical history and not always as enemies of God’s purposes or the Gospel story, but rather, they were often instruments for effecting the redemption story.
As we celebrate the birth of Christ this season, may we pay careful attention to the non-Western voices and places which helped move the redemption story forward, and not necessarily always in a negative way. Perhaps revisiting their participation and contribution will form the common ground for holding people of color groups central in our Christian story and create space for their continued contributions and participation to be featured in the representation of our great and awesome God who revealed Himself to us as the descendant of a people of color group.