George Bowers Sr.: Jesus was a refugee
In last week’s column, we examined Luke’s account of how Jesus and His parents ended up homeless in Bethlehem and were forced to find shelter in a barn or cave. Since most subscribers to this paper have warm homes and ample food, I pray that this reflection isn’t lost among our trashed wrapping paper and Christmas clean-ups.
This week, we want to look at Matthew’s account which takes place a little later in Jesus’ life. Putting all the facts together from Matthew 2, Jesus is evidently 12-24 months of age when the Wise Men arrive from their star-led journey. The Bible tells us that these guests visited the house where the holy family was staying indicating that they had, by now, found some more suitable arrangements than the stable in which they lived earlier.
After sharing their generous gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, the visitors loaded up and headed home by a different route. The paranoid and highly wicked King Herod was determined to find and destroy every adult or baby who might pose any threat to his power and dominance. And realizing he had been outfoxed by the Magi, he issued the order to kill all the male babies in Bethlehem under two years of age. This part of the Bible story is rarely portrayed in our Christmas pageants and with good reason. The brutality and ruthlessness of such an act speaks volumes about how much the forces of this world resisted Jesus from His very beginning.
So why wasn’t Jesus killed with all those other babies? Because His parents had already spirited Him away to Egypt. Matthew tells us of a vivid dream in which God warned Joseph of the impending slaughter and he wasted no time in gathering his little family and fleeing in the middle of the night. There was no time to pack up all the food, cancel the cable or leave a forwarding address. They simply ran for their lives. This chapter of the Christmas story clearly identifies Jesus and his parents as refugees seeking asylum. What conditions they faced in Egypt or how long they stayed there we do not know, but I’m thankful they had a safe place to flee to.
This harsh reality from the early life of my Savior forces me to reexamine the refugee crisis the world faces today. Hundreds of thousands of individuals who follow Jesus have had to make similar hasty departures from their homes, businesses, farms, churches and communities because of the imminent threat of death at the hands of ISIS. Many others couldn’t leave fast enough and have sadly perished in the carnage.
But where have the refugees gone and where will they end up? As followers of our once refugeed Savior, we cannot simply ignore their plight and pretend they don’t exist. The Teacher who told us to welcome strangers compels us to reach out in love and compassion. Should we ignore the potential terror threat by those who will take advantage of such kindness? Absolutely not. We have a God-given responsibility to protect our own families as well. So we must do the hard, and yes, even expensive work of vetting these escapees, but we must do what we can to provide temporary shelters for them in the meantime either in or near their own countries or in our country that both provide for them and protect us.
Will some terrorists slip through? Inevitably they will, even as Judas infiltrated the disciples and betrayed the Lord. But to turn a deaf ear and a hardened soul to these who are running for their lives is not only heartless, it is un-Christian.
Once again, God the Father could have chosen any situation for His Son to be born into, but He chose one that would allow Him to be both homeless and a refugee before His third birthday. God was sending a clear message that He cares for all those in similar situations and can personally relate to each one. As followers of the refugee Jesus, let us be obedient to Him and respond to these refugees today in both love and wisdom. In Jesus, George
George Bowers Sr. is the Senior Pastor of Antioch Church of the Brethren in Woodstock and the author of seven books including his latest book of poetry, Holy Verses. He can be reached through www.georgebowersministries.com or at firstname.lastname@example.org.