Jesus was a refugee

Years ago, as I was moving away from one city with my husband and new born daughter into an uncertain future, a friend gave me a Christmas present. It was a little porcelain statue of Joseph leading a donkey with Mary and the infant Jesus on its back…that part of the Christmas story we so often forget to include in our retellings. She said to me, “They must have been scared too.”

And now, twenty some years later, I am struck, as I’m sure we all are, by the images of the thousands upon thousands of Syrians fleeing their homeland, desperate to find a place where they can live in safety and create a safe space for their children to grow up. And as Christmas fast approaches, I think about that figurine and all it represents.

According to the story, Mary and Joseph took a very young Jesus and fled for their lives south into Egypt. They weren’t migrants searching for new jobs. They were refugees. They were trying to escape the sure devastation of remaining where they lived. They wanted their son to be able to grow up. The story doesn’t tell us whether they were stopped at a border. It doesn’t tell us whether there were refugee camps, or whether temporary fences got put up trying to keep them out.

I wonder what would happen if every image of the Syrian’s included a man, his wife and their little baby riding on a donkey. A young family bringing nothing more than what they can manage to carry, seeking refuge in a strange land. I think this Christmas I will place my little porcelain statue in a place of honor — and be grateful that the story tells us that those refugees of so long ago were allowed to pass out of their country to live in another until it was safe to return.

Perhaps this Christmas I will donate to refugee relief in honor of those other refugees more than 2,000 years ago. Even better than that, perhaps I can find a way to feed the hungry, to give clothing to those without, to welcome the strangers among us. Perhaps you will join me.