During the Christmas season, we hear Jesus referred to by many different names and titles: Son of God, Saviour, Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Prince of Peace, etc. These are all wonderful titles for Jesus but I would like to suggest one more title that we could give to Jesus that I think is most appropriate. The title? “Undocumented Child Refugee.” We don’t often think of Jesus as a refugee but that is exactly what He and His parents were!
Following Jesus’ birth, the Gospel of Matthew tells us that King Herod wanted to kill the young child. In response, an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream and said: “Get up. Take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him” (Matthew 2:13). Joseph obeyed the command of the angel and took his family and escaped to a foreign country with little more than the clothes on their backs. How different is this from the millions of families who are desperately seeking to escape from dangerous circumstances and get a fresh start in Canada and other developed nations.
These refugees who are following in the footsteps of Jesus can be divided into two categories. Millions of them are our brothers and sisters in Christ. Millions more have never heard how much God loves them nor that our Saviour knows exactly what they are going through because He, Himself, was a refugee. As Christians, we have a God-given mandate to reach out to both groups of refugees and give them a chance at a new life. There is simply no getting around the teaching of Scripture. God expects us to open our arms and hearts to those whom the Bible describes as “the least of these.”
Let me suggest four biblical principles to guide our thinking towards refugees at Christmas and throughout the year:
1. All people are made in the image of God and are thus of infinite worth. In the first chapter of Genesis we are told, “So God created humankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (v. 27). God does not consider some people or nations to be of more value than others. In God’s eyes, we are all of infinite worth because we are created in God’s image.
2. God has a special concern for the poor, the foreigner, and the dispossessed. This truth is found throughout Scripture. In Leviticus we read: “When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God” (19:33-34).
In Deuteronomy, we’re told: “[God] defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt” (10:18-19).
Indeed, thousands of years before the creation of the welfare state, God commanded Israel to be proactive in looking after the needs of the poor and the immigrant: “When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner” (Leviticus 19:9-10).
3. When we show compassion to refugees, we are showing compassion to Jesus. Jesus, Himself, said: ““Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40).
4. God will judge us on our treatment of those who are most vulnerable. Take some time to read through Matthew 25:31-46, the parable of the sheep and the goats. There is no getting around the fact that God will judge us on how we treat the stranger, the poor, and the outcast.
I am proud of my own congregation which has taken the teaching of Scripture seriously. They have sponsored a refugee family from The Democratic Republic of the Congo. This family of five arrived in Moncton on December 11. Previous to this our congregation spent months preparing for their arrival and will be supporting them for the next twelve months. Indeed, we are hoping that God will open the door to us sponsoring other refugee families because this is what the Church is supposed to be about.
This Christmas, amidst the tinsel and lights, egg nog and turkey, gift giving and gift getting, take a few moments to remember that we worship a God who came into this world as an undocumented child refugee. And with your time, talents, and treasures support those churches and other community organizations which are seeking to support refugees.