Regardless of your faith, or lack thereof, there is no disputing the global and enduring impact of Jesus’s birth. Christmas Day is a perfect time to think about Jesus as a refugee.
According to the Bible (Matthew 2:1-15), King Harrod was intimidated by news of the birth of the “King of the Jews.” Since no one would tell him which baby boy, in particular, was the new king, he decreed that every boy under the age of two should be put to death.
Upon hearing this, Jesus’s parents fled Israel and sought protection in Egypt. They didn’t check their passports, they didn’t get permission from Egyptian authorities. They fled in the middle of the night in order to save their son. Other families weren’t so lucky and several dozen infants and toddlers were murdered out of fear. Years later, Jesus returned to Israel, after the threat of King Harrod had passed.
What is a refugee? According to the Immigration and Nationality Act, section 101(a)(42), a refugee is “any person who is outside any country of such person’s nationality or, in the case of a person having no nationality, is outside any country in which such person last habitually resided, and who is unable or unwilling to return to, and is unable or unwilling to avail himself or herself of the protection of, that country because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.”
It seems to me that when Jesus and his family fled Israel, their country of nationality and their country of residence; when the government was actively seeking his death; when Jesus was targeted because of who he was – well, that meets the definition of refugee. A refugee does not have to be unable to return forever, but for the years that Jesus and his family lived in Egypt, seeking protection, they were refugees.
Much, much more could be, and has been, written on this topic, but at its core, it’s simple. Jesus fled to another country to escape harm. If Egypt had kicked him and his family out, or if they had issued a travel ban against Israelis, or if they made him return to Israel, what would have happened?