Jesus was a refugee

There is so much tradition and nostalgia around Christmas, the customs and traditions cast big shadows. They are often seen as the principal signs of the holiday, instead of as garland. But tonight, let us remember...

Christmas is real.

Now I love Miracle on 34th Street, and It’s Wonderful Life, and Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. I like Christmas trees and houses decked with lights and reindeer. I love carols and candles, giving and receiving gifts, and holiday food and parties as the nights have been growing longer.

But forget the cartoons. Forget the little drummer boy and Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer, and Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree. Forget Ebenezer Scrooge, and the jolly old fat man in the red suit. Forget even the nativity scenes. There’s nothing wrong with these, some are perfectly lovely, some are true expressions of faith.

Every now and then we need to go back and remember that the actual baby Jesus was not a character in a story. Like every other newborn child, he was born of a woman, set into a place and time and culture. Like every other newborn child, he was born into an uncertain future.

We may read the story through these filters, and forget to notice what the text tells us. According to Luke, Jesus was born to poor parents in a land which barely offered them shelter. According to Matthew, soon after his birth, his parents fled for their lives to a foreign land. Jesus was a refugee.

The special grace given to Mary by the angel surely did not keep her from worry about their immediate circumstances. Like the refugees of today, there were daily, weekly, perpetual threats to their safety. Comfort was not part of their equation.

Like here, in this modern refugee camp in Edomeni, Greece. The birth of new life into the world will not wait for human society to provide a warm house or hospital. The birth of real life is not sentimental, but comes with pain, blood, and risk.

We read the Biblical stories and take note of the signs and portents,the angels singing in the sky, the prophecies, the star, the magi with their royal gifts. But we misread the story if we only see the extraordinary. We must at the same time see that Jesus is also extraordinarily ordinary..

2000 years later, the world has wealth and wonders that neither Herod nor Caesar could dream of. More than at any time in history, we have the ability to feed every child, to educate every child, to have shelter for everyone, and to live together in peace. It grieves me to know and to say it is a disgrace to the human race that there is still nothing extraordinary about a child born into poverty, about a family fleeing violence, about a ruler threatened by righteousness. There is a spiritual song that speaks to this reality...

        Sweet little Jesus boy, they made you be born in a manger
        Sweet little Jesus boy, they didn't know who you were...

I think the same thing is true of that little baby born in the refugee tent in Greece. The same is true of every child born into a world unprepared to help that child be the loving gift to us that is God's will.

If we but knew. If we but knew that every child is a light to the world. That every child has worth. That every child has a vocation for good. That every child can grow to be a blessing to their community and the world. It's one thing to proclaim "You don't have to live like a refugee." And it is quite another to say "We don't have to force people to flee."

This poor little baby, born to Mary and to a troubled world, brought light. He came into the world and was not conquered by cruelty, greed, indifference, or even death. Jesus is a credible refuge for the faithful, precisely because he is a refugee from evil. This Christmas, may we follow the way he has made plain.


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