The great good news of Christmas is that God become one of us—that God willingly put Himself in position to experience all the struggles and sorrows and pains that we experience.
Matthew shares an example of this in one of the frequently overlooked portions of his Christmas story (Matthew 2:13-18): Jesus experienced at a young age what it was like to have to flee for his life and live for a time as a refugee in a country that didn’t want him.
William Murray summarizes Matthew’s account: “Jesus, as a small boy, knew the pain of fleeing a bloody land where the innocent were slaughtered. He saw the terror in his mother’s eyes as his family fled at night, hurriedly and quietly under the cover of darkness for fear of discovery. A death sentence had been issued by Herod the Great for him and every male child under the age of two.”
Writing in the January 1, 2017 issue of Biblical Archaeology, Joan Taylor elaborates on the background: “Many epitaphs and inscriptions, as well as historical sources, testify to a thriving Jewish expatriate community in Egypt made up of earlier refugees that could be joined by others. However, just like today, new refugees were not welcome. A letter of the emperor Claudius, written in 41 C.E., states that Jews in Alexandria lived in ‘a city not their own’ in which they were ‘not to bring in or invite Jews who sail down to Alexandria from Syria.’… For new refugees, as anywhere, life would have been very hard. The first-century Jewish philosopher Philo of Alexandria tells us of the consequences of poverty, which could result in enslavement. Presumably, Jewish charity and voluntary giving through the synagogue would have helped a struggling refugee family, but they would also have been reliant on the kindness of strangers.”
From his earliest years, Jesus knew from his own experience what it was like to have to flee for his life, and settle for a time in a foreign country where he was not wanted, and to depend upon the kindness of strangers.
No wonder Jesus showed such compassion to the downtrodden, the displaced, and the rejected during his years on earth.
While working in Iraq with Samaritan’s Purse and ministering to people who had to flee their homes and villages under threat of death from ISIS, Caryn Pederson shares, “I have a new appreciation for the sacrifices Jesus and His family made at the beginning of his life and not just at the end of it. After Mary had already endured scorn over her pregnancy and delivered her baby in a place designed for animals, she fled on a night’s notice to a place with strange customs, living as a refugee in order to save her son. As I remember the cold and the living conditions of displaced people in Iraq, I will pray for their protection and thank my Savior, once a refugee, for another layer of His love for the world.”
Since Jesus experienced the need to flee for his life to a foreign land, his heart is soft and caring toward those who experience such things now, and he calls for those who bear his name to have compassion and care for those who are downtrodden, displaced or rejected.
As Pope Francis exhorts us, “Just as he is merciful, so we are called to be merciful to each other…. The Church’s very credibility is seen in how she shows merciful and compassionate love.” ■
—Tom Tripp is the Pastor at the First Presbyterian Church of Colusa.