Not at first glance. But there are some significant truths around God’s movement of people in the Christmas narrative.
The Bible is a remarkable story of movement.
My friend Jenny Yang with World Relief first reminded me of this simple, but profound truth. The first immigrants came from Eden. As their children moved across the region, God used movement to advance His purposes. Abraham was called to leave his home to travel to a place unknown, Moses moved out of Egypt into a land flowing with milk and honey. God moved his people out of Israel into Assyria and out of Judah into Babylon. He moved the disciples and Paul to spread the gospel through a Holy Spirit movement across the known world.
God himself moved.
Wrapping himself in human flesh God left his home in heaven to travel to a distant land. That is the story of Christmas. Even in that story God moved Joseph and Mary from Nazareth to Bethlehem (see last week’s blog).
The Bible is a remarkable story of movement. From famine moving Ruth and Naomi, to war moving Daniel and his three friends. Movement. Whether voluntarily seeking something better as immigrants or forced to flee as refugees. It’s no wonder the Bible directly speaks of the sojourner 92 times. Christians are people rooted in a remarkable history of movement.
But how is Christmas a remarkable refugee story?
In a narrow sense Christmas is a story of migration, not a refugee story. But Christmas has a larger narrative. Part of that narrative includes the flight to Egypt following the magi’s visit. That’s a remarkable refugee story.
Many people like to discount the historical accuracy of Scripture. They don’t think there were any wise men, slaughter of innocents or fleeing to Egypt. They point out that the prominent historian Josephus never mentions the killing of children in Bethlehem. Since Josephus wrote so much about King Herod, they believe he would have referenced the slaughter. But there is nothing contradictory in Josephus focusing on the big stories of the day instead of the killing of a few baby boys.
Do you know anything about the killings taking place in communities across America? No. Because the news is dominated by bigger items. Bethlehem had a population of perhaps 1,500. If you factor in the number of married women of child bearing age who would have a male boy under the age of two, you can see why that would be a small number.
Terrible atrocity, but Herod did terrible atrocities on a regular basis at the time Jesus was born. Herod slaughtered three sons. Killed a wife. He was planning to slaughter all the Jewish leaders because he was dying and didn’t want people celebrating his death. He was going to give them a reason to mourn. In the midst of that reality, a few boys being slaughtered probably escaped Josephus attention.
Some argue that since Egypt was under Roman occupation like Palestine, that the Holy Family were not refugees. I don’t know what else you call having to flee genocide in the middle of the night, cross a desert, and enter a land with different language and customs. Like other refugees the Holy Family found a community of fellow Jews to support one another in this adopted foreign country. We have good historical records of this community in Egypt.
But what makes the story remarkable?
The greater Christmas narrative that makes this a remarkable refugee story is found in the question “Why?” “Why Christmas?” Jesus intentionally chose to be born to poor peasants. He chose to receive the wealth of the magi. He chose to experience the fear and uncertainty of fleeing in the night. Jesus chose to experience his earliest Earthy memories in a foreign land as a refugee. He chose to give to the poor and live humbly.
Jesus is the high king of heaven. Yet he intentionally chose to forsake his rights and title to live among us. He joined us and took on our sin so we could join him in his resurrection and the defeat of sin and death. Nothing is more remarkable than that.
Relevance for today
If we understand this, we must identify with others. We cannot accept that some people are better than others based on intellectual capacity, wealth, skin color, political party or any other human measurement. Instead, we must identify with all people. We must join Jesus in entering into the suffering of others.
The church should care about the global refugee crisis. We should not fear refugees. We should welcome refugees. The Supreme Court recently upheld round three of the Trump ban as previously predicted. Rather than look to courts we should look to Scripture to live out our command to love neighbors. We should advocate for Biblical policies which mean standing with refugees, Dreamers and immigrants.
Christians are people of movement following a Book of movement reflecting a God of movement. We are all refugees in one sense. Fleeing the war torn, sin-ravaged world we live in, we journey toward our heavenly home. When we arrive we will live with neighbors from every language, tribe and nation (Rev. 7:9). Wouldn’t it be nice to reflect that Kingdom now?
In the most profound way, Christmas is a remarkable refugee story. Christmas invites all refugees to find their way to their heavenly home. Christmas invites us to lovingly serve neighbors, pick up their baggage, and ask them to join us on the journey.