I forget at times that young Jesus began his early life as a refugee. King Herod wanted no threat of rivals when he learned that a young child was born in Bethlehem, destined to be the king of the Jews. Herod was tricked by the wise men, who did not return to reveal where the child was, so he sent his troops to kill every child in or around Bethlehem who was two years or younger. Cruelty has ever been with us.
Joseph learned of what was going to happen, so he took his wife and young boy, Jesus, into Egypt. There they lived as strangers and truly refugees – running from danger and for a time probably homeless. I don’t often think of Jesus as having to live in exile in his young life. There is an Egyptian Christian Church that has not forgotten. Known as the Coptic Church, it traditionally dates its history back to the days when Jesus was a young boy. They believed he lived there as a refugee for some time, and traditions exist about exact locations where the holy family visited. Annual pilgrimages following that route are taken by tourists.
Joseph probably would have told the young boy that his people were also homeless refugees, ﬂeeing Egypt and living years in a desert wilderness. Losing your home, losing your roots in a country, facing uncertainty and fearing the future is almost a legacy throughout history. What I have been witnessing today, families with young children walking and running to ﬁnd a place of safety, is due to “man’s inhumanity to man” that never seems to end. The ongoing terror and chaos throughout the Middle East and in Africa must bring tears to our Lord’s eyes. Can we not learn the things that make for peace?
I bless those who are trying to help, trying to make a difference, feeding the hungry ones, treating those who have become sick or wounded. They represent the “better angels” of our human nature, for whom we pray. Our Presbyterian Disaster Assistance coordinator writes, “Our hearts are broken as we try to stand on every front with those who are suffering. Yet we can be part of the solution – praying for the refugees to ﬁnd strength and hope and for the countries who are hosting them.” And with the prayers can be the contributions we can make through our church to provide shelter, food and safety to families who have been forced to leave their “Bethlehem” behind. As Christians, we pay attention to the crises in the world, seeking God’s intervention to initiate healing and hope.
Rev. Robert McQuilkin, Author