If you’ve ever attended a Christmas church service, you’ve probably read or heard some version of the Biblical Christmas story. However, the over-familiar and often fiction-like presentation of the story causes few of us to feel the impact of this peculiar and at times surprisingly tragic narrative. From a couple on the brink of divorce (Matthew 1:19), to newlyweds suddenly forced to move to a new city, sleep in a shack fit for animals and pay an outstanding tax bill with a baby due (Luke 2:1-7), the Christmas story is more relevant for us today than we may realize.
Perhaps the part of this 2,000-year-old story that speaks most directly to those of us living in the twenty-first century is when Joseph, Mary and baby Jesus are forced to flee to Egypt to escape King Herod’s mass infanticide. We must pay attention to the crucial implications of a family of refugees who have just lost all but their lives and are seeking asylum.
People often say of social justice causes, “This is not a political issue, it’s a moral one.” But the refugee crisis is more than just a moral issue. It’s a Biblical one.
Scripture has plenty to say about how we are to treat refugees when it calls us to “treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you,” (Lev. 19:33) and similar verses. But what many people don’t realize is that God doesn’t just call us to welcome the stranger. Jesus Himself became one.
Jesus, who, according to Scripture, was God in the flesh, became human to identify with us. He wasn’t born into privilege, He was born in a stable. He wasn’t wealthy, but poor. He identifies with the lowly and “the least of these,” (Matthew 25:40). But perhaps we haven’t thought about the implications of Jesus identifying with the most vulnerable members of our society.
If Jesus’ family were refugees seeking asylum in Egypt, that means we have clear implications for His words in Matthew 25:35:
“I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in… whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
When Jesus says, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me,” He wasn’t exaggerating or being poetic. Jesus truly was the “least of these.” He and His family actually stood at the edge of a national border, dependant on the hospitality of strangers in a nation that was not their home.
We’ve all heard the media try to strike fear in us by talking about the threat of terrorists entering our country disguised as refugees seeking asylum. But despite all our fears, we must remember that Jesus was once a refugee.
The question we should consider is, if Jesus and His family were on the other side of our borders right now seeking asylum, would we let them in?
The refugee crisis must be a Christian issue before it is a political issue. We must let our Christian convictions, rather than our personal ideals and opinions, inform how we handle the problem of real human beings becoming homeless and seeking asylum.
The fact that Jesus’ own family were refugees should transform this political issue into a human issue. Jesus Himself has been in the shoes of those being turned away at the border. This Christmas, when you read the Christmas story, let’s remember that Jesus sympathizes with the ostracized and outcast, and He calls us to do the same.