Was Jesus A Refugee?

A church in California has made headlines with their outdoor nativity scene. CNN reports, “A California church is displaying a nativity scene depicting Jesus, Mary and Joseph as refugees in cages to draw attention to the conditions faced by migrants seeking asylum in the United States. The Claremont United Methodist Church, about 30 miles east of Los Angeles, posted the photo on its website showing the three held in separate cages topped with barbed wire. The baby Jesus is wrapped in a silver foil blanket.” The reason for this was to make people think about how we are handling refugees in our country. Head pastor Karen Clark Ristine told CNN, “We thought about the most famous refugee family in the world, the family of Jesus. If this sparks conversation, that would be one good goal.” On the church’s Facebook page it was posted, “What if this family sought refuge in our country today? In the Claremont United Methodist Church nativity scene this Christmas, the Holy Family takes the place of the thousands of nameless families separated at our borders," Ristine said in the post. "Imagine Joseph and Mary separated at the border and Jesus no older than two taken from his mother and placed behind the fences of a Border Patrol detention center as more than 5,500 children have been the past three years."
The unique display and approach to the nativity scene has sparked a lot of controversy. Many people have stated that Mary and Joseph went to Bethlehem because of a census and they were not refugees at all. But that is not what this church is referring to. They are referring to when the Holy family fled to Egypt to escape the terror of King Herod. The bible tells us that Herod was jealous and concerned about the competition of another king and ordered all boys two and younger to be killed. So Mary and Joseph fled to Egypt to save Jesus’ life (Matthew 2:13-18). This Methodist church is stating they were refugees when they were forced to flee to another country, the country of Egypt.
Is this church right? Would Jesus’ family have been separated if they fled to our country? How should we as Christians interpret this? Do they have a point?
No this church is not correct. To have this depiction is factually wrong. Putting aside the politics of how to handle refugees, Mary, Joseph and Jesus were never refugees. Jesus was born somewhere between 4-6 B.C. Egypt was taken over by the Roman empire in 30 B.C. So Egypt was not an independent country but part of the Roman nation. When Mary, Joseph and Jesus went from Bethlehem to Egypt they were still in Rome. They never left the country! They were not illegal aliens or refugees, but just moved to a different party of the country!
So if a church wants to make a point to the world or spark conversation that’s fine, but at least do it accurately, correctly and factually! As refugees are concerned and how we should approach them we must look to the scriptures for guidance. On this topic the Bible tells us that;
  1. A country can defend and protect itself (Romans 13:1-4)
  2. We are to love everyone (Luke 10:25-37), even our enemies (Matthew 5:44). So we are to obviously love (a love of action mind you) even those that may not be citizens.
  3. We are all refugees! The Bible is clear that the world is not our home (2 Corinthians 5:8). Maybe that is the problem with this political topic and the church. We approach it with the wrong point of view. We are looking at our country as our permanent home. When Christians are citizens of the Kingdom of God, not the United States of America (1 Peter 2:11). We are to seek first His kingdom (Matthew 6:33) and not our earthly ones.
Jesus’ family were never refugees. What happened to them was all part of God’s plan. They never would have been separated because it was not part of His will. But biblically speaking, Jesus was a refugee regardless of where He lived or what His citizenship was. Because He is a citizen of heaven. He is more so. He is THE King of God’s kingdom. We too are not citizens of this world and must not lose sight of where our home truly is.

“Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Phil. 3:20).
“Here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come” (Heb. 13:14).

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