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World of Words
A monthly blog of interesting words, phrases, and idioms.  Like us on Facebook to receive new posts.

This month we have selected a Christmas-themed word as our Word of the Month. Refugee.

"What are you talking about?" you might say. "Refugee is not a Christmas word! Christmas words are happy words like celebrate, or yuletide, or maybe carolingRefugee is a sad word, and has no place in the holiday season!"

Ah, but it does! When the Christmas story is retold and celebrated around the world, we most often sing carols that talk about baby Jesus peacefully sleeping in the manger with Mary and Joseph nearby, or shepherds watching their flocks, or wise men following a star. These are the happy, picturesque scenes that form the backdrop of our celebrations, and the cover illustrations of our greeting cards.

But there is an old carol (first written record of the carol puts it in the 1500s) that we don't sing very much -- and when we hear it, it's most often an instrumental rather than vocal piece, because nobody wants to sing such sad words during a season of celebration.

Coventry Carol

Lullay, Thou little tiny child
Bye-bye lully, lullay
Lullay, Thou little tiny child
Bye-bye lully, lullay

Herod the King, in his raging
Charged he hath this day
His men of might in his own sight
All children young, to slay

Then woe is me, poor child, for Thee
And ever mourn and say
For Thy parting nor say, nor sing
Bye-bye lully, lullay

You see, the Christmas season wasn't all happiness and joy; when the wise men went back to their homeland without returning to file a report with Herod the king, Herod -- in a fit of both rage and fear -- ordered the infamous infanticide we refer to as the "Slaughter of the Innocents" -- all male children in Bethlehem under the age of two were killed by Herod's soldiers.

And how did the young child Jesus escape this horror? The gospel of Matthew records that an angel appeared to Joseph: "'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."

So, although we don't tend to think of Him this way, Jesus was a refugee. The plight of Jesus was very similar to the plight of all refugees -- people who have left their homeland, seeking a place of refuge, because their home has become unsafe for them.

That is, by the way, the origin of the word refugee -- a refugee is someone who is seeking refuge.

Like Jesus's family, many refugees are waiting in hope that someday their own land will be safe to return to. For some, the wait is short, but for others, the wait can be decades. And for others that hope of return is never realized.

In the gospels, Jesus is recorded as saying, "Whatever you have done to the least of these, you've done it for me." It is no wonder that one who was once a refugee himself would have great compassion for the downtrodden of this world.

As we celebrate the Christmas season this year, let us not forget those who -- like the Christ child -- know what it means to be chased out of their homeland.

I would like to close this blog post with a poem which was written by Henry van Dyke (van Dyke is best known for penning the words to "Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee," and "The Story of the Other Wiseman.") We have recorded this poem as a song, and created a video from it. You can view the video here: Thou Wayfaring Jesus.

Thou Wayfaring Jesus

Thou wayfaring Jesus, a pilgrim and stranger
Exiled from heaven by love at Thy birth
Exiled again from Thy rest in the manger
A fugitive child 'mid the perils of earth.

Cheer with thy fellowship all who are weary
Wandering far from the land that they love
Guide every heart that is homeless and dreary
Safe to its home in Thy presence above.

Word Games!




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