I find it amazing that when God decided to become flesh and blood in order to save us from our sins, he did not choose to be born in the Holy Temple of Jerusalem, accompanied by choirs and psalters and laid into a golden crib at the Royal Palace. No, he was born into a poor, Nazarene family who had to place him in a food pot.
On top of that, Jesus and his parents had to become refugees before he had reached two years of human age:
When the magi had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up!” he said. “Take the Child and His mother and flee to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the Child to kill Him.” So he got up, took the Child and His mother by night, and withdrew to Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. This fulfilled what the Lord had spoken through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called My Son.” (Mt 2:13-15)
The first Christmas wasn’t a cozy, fuzzy, cinnamon-scented gathering filled with gifts and candy. It was dirty, raw and dangerous. The holy family became holy refugees.
Recently, activist theologian Shane Claiborne gave a powerful message at Woodland Hills Church in Saint Paul, Minnesota, on what this means for us today. He said:
You know a lot of people are talking about the “war on Christmas”, and by that they mean we need to make sure we say “Merry Christmas” instead of “Happy Holidays”. But I gotta say, I think God could care less whether we say “Happy Holidays” or “Merry Christmas” if we still turn away immigrants and leave Jesus in the cold this Christmas. So I’m less interested in putting the Christ back in Christmas than I am putting the Christ back in Christians.
Jesus will indeed say “I was a stranger and you took Me in” to those who join him in his glorious Kingdom, and “I was a stranger and you did not take Me in” to those banished to an eternity without God (Mt 25:35, 43). How we treat refugees today say something about how we would have treated Jesus and his family if we lived in Egypt 2,000 years ago.
“But Micael, aren’t you politicizing the Gospel now?” someone might object. “Surely, Jesus was talking about welcoming strangers privately into our homes, he wasn’t talking about what migration policies countries should have.”
Well, Jesus himself is quite good at politicizing the Gospel already. He, along with John the Baptist and several Old Testament prophets, made it clear that kings and lords needed to follow the same divinely inspired ethics as everyone else (2 Sam 12, Mk 6:18, Lk 22:53). In Matthew 25, he addresses “all the nations” (v. 32). Obviously, a few politicians and leaders will be in that crowd.
Isn't it a bit weird to think that Jesus really wants us to host and welcome strangers in our homes, but doesn't mind if we all of a suddenly cheer and clap our hands as the state forcefully deport them to poverty, persecution or war? Jesus clearly criticizes the rich man who refused to let poor Lazarus into his home. Would he celebrate a rich country that does the same to poor refugees on a national level?
The world is upside down. Developing nations host 84% of the world’s refugees. The richest nations on earth complain that they “can’t afford” refugees or that they have to “prioritize our own”, so poor countries like Pakistan, Uganda, Congo and Lebanon have to bear the heaviest burden. Is this righteous? Is this fair? Why should rich countries have moral freedom to cause refugee crises through invasions and environmental destruction without any responsibility to provide them with hospitality and refuge?
Jesus wants us to do to others as we would have them do to us (Mt 7:12). This golden rule echoes the Old Testament principle of treating immigrants as natives and loving them as we love ourselves (Lev 19:33-34).
This Christmas, let’s put the Christ back in “Christians”. Let us welcome refugees as we would welcome him.