Jesus was a refugee. Not long after he was born his parents were forced to flee to Egypt because Israel was no longer a safe place to be – it hadn’t been for a while. There were kings and rulers vying for control and the people were caught in the crossfire. The Roman Emperor, Caesar Augustus, called for a census of the entire Roman world so he could keep track of all those under his rule and keep them under his thumb. The King over the Jews, Herod the Great, called for nationwide infanticide so he could eliminate any potential usurper and protect his position on the throne. There was trouble, all kinds of trouble.
It is understandable that Mary and Joseph fled. A person would do almost anything to protect their family. What is strange, however, is where they found refuge. It wasn’t the first time the descendants of Israel had sought shelter among the Egyptians. Thousands of years before there had been a severe drought and the Israelites made Egypt their home; the land was fertile and the cities were safe. Yet, within a few generations the Israelites were slaves, living lives of submission. Why would Mary and Joseph return to the place where their forebears were oppressed? Why seek asylum in Egypt of all places, among enemies and adversaries? Perhaps it is safer to be a foreigner in a strange land than to remain amidst the conflict of your own kin.
Imagine the fear, the insecurity, the sense of dread that grips your diaphragm like you’re winded all the time. How can people live like that?! God knows! Yet, witness the stamina and the fortitude of the family. Such courage! Such determination! Such resolve!
This story of a refugee family from the Middle East during a time of great social, political and religious turbulence is not so foreign to us. Despite the angels and the stars and the strangeness of it all, the Christmas story is no fairytale. Into our world of instability and unrest God has come. The stories of our violence and our vulnerability are not foreign to God. Jesus knows our need, Jesus experiences our struggle. In Jesus there is true peace amidst turmoil, deep joy during great suffering, pervasive love among enemies, and hope; pure, honest, earnest hope.
Do not be afraid, there is good news that will bring great joy to all people: God is with us, God will restore us.