Today we celebrate Jesus' birth. Soon after the first Christmas, Jesus himself and his parents became refugees in Egypt, fleeing King Herod.
Today, Rich Stearns—president of World Vision USA—reflects on refugees, then and today, our spiritual exile from God, and the longing for us all to come home.
One of the most striking things about Jesus’ birth—in poverty and amidst suffering—are the parallels between his world and the world today where so many are still suffering. This year I’ve been reflecting on Jesus as a refugee.
For the first time since World War II, the number of people forced to flee their homes has exceeded 50 million. In the Middle East, the situation is especially acute, with 12 million people displaced by conflict in Iraq and Syria, and 3.3 million refugees from Syria. Half of these people are children, the most vulnerable. They are often scarred for life because of the violence they have experienced and the trauma of being uprooted from their homes.
World Vision has responded to as many emergencies in the last 12 months as we ever have in one year, and many of them involve refugees and internally displaced people.
Of course, Jesus was a refugee as well. Jesus’ story as a child refugee can give us a unique sense of compassion for those who, like our Savior, have fled from home for safety.
After Jesus’ birth, Herod was jealous because the Magi warned him of a potential new king. Although the baby Jesus posed no threat to Herod, he still murdered all the children under two years old in and around Bethlehem. The Gospel of Matthew tells the story:
When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:
“A voice is heard in Ramah,
weeping and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children
and refusing to be comforted,
because they are no more.” (Matthew 2:16-18)
It seems that not much is changed. This year, followers of Jesus in Iraq were brutally reminded of Jesus’ experience as a refugee. Outside the Middle East, fighting in South Sudan and the Central African Republic created new refugee communities in those countries. Many now worry about famine, as they haven’t been able to tend their flocks or plant their fields.
“Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head,” Jesus said in Matthew 8:20. However much suffering is in our world today, Jesus has also experienced it. He fled and suffered from injustice. He saw the brutality of violent rulers.
But that’s not a new story. In fact, it’s the story of the whole of Scripture. We are all refugees. The Old Testament people of God were refugees in Egypt; they became refugees again in Babylon. Jesus’ flight to Egypt as a child followed that of Jacob and his family in the Old Testament.
We can all enter into this story of being refugees. Spiritually, we are exiled from God, and it is Jesus, the Prince of Peace and the child refugee, who provides us a way back home.
As followers of Christ, we know how the story ends. We are equipped to offer assistance—whether that’s spiritually leading lost people to Jesus or physically caring for the needs of people in desperate situations.
The longing of each of us and of every refugee is to finally come home. May this Christmas bring you closer to home, wherever that may be.