When Jesus Was a Refugee

Hum as you read, go ahead, don’t be shy:

  • “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, everywhere you go.”
  • “Rockin’ around the Christmas tree at the Christmas party hop.”
  • “Santa Claus is coming to town.”

Many of these tunes have probably started to sound from your car radio or you’ve preset them as your background music in your home, office, or out in your garage Bluetooth speakers as you are assembling your family’s Christmas tree you stored up in the attic. The Christmas season is here!

Another Part of the Christmas Story

With that, I’d like us to meditate on a part of the Christmas story that is usually left out, yet shows us how Jesus’ family found themselves in a situation that is like many situations happening in our city and around the world.

Do you remember when the three wise men came from afar to pay homage to baby Jesus? Even though we recognize this may have happened a couple of years into Jesus' life, it's still part of the Christ-arrival story (in the Bible and in popular culture). And days after the wise men left, Joseph was warned by an angel to flee to Egypt with his family in Matthew 2:13 (ESV):

Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.”

Life as Refugees

Can you imagine the stress this situation created for the young family? There is a stark difference between the wise men coming to worship baby Jesus and the ruling king wanting this same baby dead.

What would motivate Herod to desire Jesus’ death? If you look back to Matthew 2:3, you see that Herod and some powerful religious groups grew very concerned about a change in their political power structure. Anyone who had threatened them before was sought out, tortured, or sometimes publicly burned alive as examples for all to see. (As we can read in verse 16, Herod decrees that all male children in Bethlehem, under 2 years old, were to be killed immediately - all just to dispose of one child.)

So the family was forced to choose: Would they heed the angel and become political refugees?

In obedience to the angel’s warning, Joseph, Mary, and the baby Jesus flee their homeland and head to Egypt. Not much is said of their time in that country, but you can imagine the adjustment to their new life as refugees in a foreign land. Per the message from the angel, they were to not leave until further notice. We don't know exactly how long the family was there, and it may not have been very long.

Regardless, their refugee status introduced one more stressful situation into the early years of Jesus' life and Joseph and Mary's marriage.

Those Like Jesus among Us

This historical account of Jesus’ infancy is like the stories of many refugees from all over the world coming to our city daily. They too find themselves fleeing their homeland to take refuge in other countries because of death threats, famine, oppressive rulers, civil wars, or an association with a certain social class. So as followers of Jesus, we have a great opportunity to respond to this resettlement of refugees to Dallas through a Biblical perspective and be a part of God’s Christmas story happening in our own backyard.

May we choose today to reflect God’s unconditional, fearless love to refugees this Christmas season, instead of man’s fearful, selfish heart who destroys his community for lack of perspective. Jesus was a refugee, and we should serve our refugee neighbors just as we would serve Him if we knew baby Jesus was in their midst (Matthew 25:31-46).


This year's holiday serving theme is Give & Go: The World at Our Table, focusing specifically on loving refugees and others who have come from afar. At watermark.org/go you'll find service opportunities, equipping around this issue, and other ways to jump in to serve our community and world.

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Photo Credit: johnlamb Flickr via Compfight cc

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