It's that time of year again. Carols are played in malls. Stores are decorated with tinsel and lights. Coffee cups and soda cans change colour. Yuletide themed clothing is worn at parties. Eggnog becomes available in stores. Keep Christ in Christmas campaigns materialise. All of these and many other cultural signifiers are deployed by various organisations, groups, and individuals to alert us to the fact that Advent season is here, Christmas is coming, and that all of us have to prepare accordingly and do something.
Along with everyone else, I have a certain understanding regarding how to prepare for Advent and what that requires my family and I to do, but that is not what I'll be writing about primarily here. Instead, I want to point out something that I think is important for those who claim to be Christian to acknowledge and reflect upon at this time of year: Jesus and his parents were refugees. If this statement offends you or you're not convinced of its validity, then let's take a look at an element of the story of Jesus as it is recorded in the Bible. Matthew 2:13-15:
Now when [Jesus, Mary, and Joseph] had departed [Bethlehem], behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son."
After that, Jesus and his family return home as refugees who were in exile because they were fleeing persecution and the threat of physical harm. Moreover, this general disposition of wandering and transience doesn't end with Jesus' childhood. Actually, it carries through into Jesus' adult years. Luke 9:57-58:
As [Jesus and his disciples] were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”
The point in sharing these verses is not to sermonize—even if it probably comes off that way. Rather, it is to point out the simple yet profound fact that as 65 million people are displaced from their homes and 21.3 million of those people are forced to flee to foreign places in fear of their lives, the people who follow Jesus ought to extend empathy, grace, and practical help to those people precisely because Christians, if they are being consistent with an understanding of who it is that they worship, worship someone who is, alongside being described in the Bible as the Son of God, is someone who is also clearly described as a refugee and a transient.
Why is it that so many Western Christians ignore or are unaware of this detail in the Bible? There are a variety of reasons, I am sure. But I think one reason stands out among the rest. It's easier to ignore the texts that call us to responsibility to our neighbour; not just our neighbour who is our family member or friend, not just the neighbour who lives next door to us and we probably should say hello to when we leave the house in the morning and come home at night, but also the foreign neighbour; the neighbour who we may not know or understand completely, but should take the time to welcome into our home and try to understand who they are regardless of what the rest of the world says on the subject.
In the second passage I quoted Jesus says that he doesn't have a place to lay his head on earth and then goes on to say that it is because he home true is in heaven and not on earth. For those who follow Jesus, this implies that we are likewise called to the same perspective and disposition. By acknowledging that where we are now is not our true home, we are implored to relinquish our need to grasp selfishly on to and viciously protect the temporary homes that we have been given on earth. Only then, with such a willingness to surrender our supposed properties and what they represent, can we see that we are called to welcome the outcast and the refugee into our temporary and eternal homes—even when the rest of the world may oppose such a posture or simply ignore those in need because they're too busy drinking eggnog lattes and buying things.
In that respect, I'll end with the words of Jesus in Matthew 25:36:
I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.
How can we respond to this reality this Christmas and in the days that follow it? Because that's the strange, beautiful, and often troubling thing about what the Bible tells us about God: God takes the attitudes and behaviours of this world and turns them upside down through God's Son Jesus. It causes us to look at the world different and act accordingly.