In just a few hours I will be hitting the road for Tennessee. This morning, the local news in Raleigh said the security line at the airport was so long it went outside the building and around the corner. It is Christmastime, and that means it is time to head home for the holidays.
Going home for the holidays is a tradition for so many. It is just what we do. We write songs about it. We make movies about it. I cannot count the number of movies that turn going home for Christmas into a comedy of errors. The whole idea is somewhat sacred and expected. As I hurriedly packed the last sweaters into my bag this morning, in a rather foul mood I might add, a thought crossed my mind.
I have a home to go to.
At the GC2 Summit, I heard startling statistics of Syrian displacement. Some 13 million people, mostly children, have been displaced in Syria. That is half of the country’s population. Half.
In other words, one out of every two residents of that country are laying their head down on a pillow that is not their own, night after night. Testimonies from the region tell stories of people who have been forced out of their homes as cities were sieged. So many of these people are now living in massive refugee camps across the border in Lebanon. All their materials possessions were left behind, and families sleep in crowded facilities. Ironically, many still cling to their house keys as a sign of hope that they will one day return home to find their house and belongings just as they left them. Today, that is an unrealistic hope for many.
According to UNHCR (the UN’s refugee agency), there are approximately 60 million people in the world right now that have been forced to leave their homes because of war or persecution or disaster. 60 million. And before you start to complain about having to take care of them, know that 86% of these displaced peoples are being taken care of by countries in the developing world.
The severity of this crisis causes me to reflect on another story of a refugee family fleeing a homicidal dictator. In Matthew’s telling of the Christmas story, he gives us this passage:
[pullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=”17”] 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.” And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.” Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men (Mt 2:13-16). [/pullquote]
During this most recent kerfuffle in the US about refugees, others have pointed out that Jesus himself was a refugee. It is a point well taken. Biblical scholars do not know exactly how long Jesus’ family sought asylum. Some say a few years, and others a few months. I wonder if Jesus celebrated his birthday hiding in a foreign land.
This year, I get to celebrate his birthday in the same cozy living room where I watched cartoons. For the many thousands of us getting to go home for Christmas, let us not lose sight of this gift of grace. May we pray for the millions who will spend this season forced out of their home. Sure, many will not celebrate Christmas this season because they do not worship the Lord of this season. However, for many, the fact that they worship this Lord is the very reason they are forced out of their homes. Regardless, we should be compelled to care for both.
Pray with me for the persecuted this season and consider doing more. Why not celebrate this Christmas with a displaced family? There are organizations that can help you find them, and I can think of few more appropriate ways to celebrate the birth of Jesus, a refugee himself, than reaching out to a family near you who is celebrating his birth far from home.
Photo By Waiting For The Word