During this Christmas season refugees are in the news whether coming from Syria or other war-torn lands or because of President-elect Trump talking about stopping immigration of Muslims to the United States. Yet a key part of the Christmas story is that Jesus was a refugee. King Herod sent his death squads to execute boy babies because of wanting to do away with the new born “King of the Jews.” Warned in a dream by an angel, Joseph took Mary and Jesus to Egypt where they found safe haven until Herod died (the story is in Matthew 2).
Have you thought of Jesus as a refugee, or as a Croatian friend of mine, Boris Peterlin, put it “RefuJesus”? Boris was a journalist during the wars when Yugoslavia splintered. Later he wrote a book with an artist that combined the ancient story of Jesus and the Holy Family as refugees and the contemporary experience of refugees displaced in the Balkan wars.
I had my own encounter with a contemporary RefuJesus. Sharon and I were in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia doing conflict transformation training. As we drove toward the training venue we saw hundreds of people loaded with burdens plodding alongside the road. I asked what was going on, and our host said these were ethnic Somalis living in along the Ethiopia/Somalia border fleeing a recent outbreak of fighting. I had an old film camera that I pulled up and snapped off a picture. We were going too fast and were too to the refugees to compose a photo, so I had no idea what I’d captured.
I got home, and there was this stunning photo. A tall father and mother, carrying their belongings and holding hands of a little child, perhaps 3 or 4 years old. I saw the suffering on the child’s face as he tried to keep pace with his parents’ long strides. This was how the Holy Family must have looked as they came back home from their sojourn in Egypt.
RefuJesus–the God who came among us is still showing up among us as the Syrian child washed up on a beach, as the child of a family applying for sanctuary and asylum, as the one needing our help in the flight from violence. As we do it to the least of these (or don’t do it!) we do it (or don’t do it!) to Jesus.