Around this festive season it is easy to get swept up in the jolly fairy lights and bustling Christmas markets, but at its heart, Christmas is a celebration around the birth of one baby boy – Jesus the refugee.
The tale of Mary and Joseph’s journey leading up to the birth of Jesus is a well known one, performed in Nativity plays across the world. Yet we often focus so much on the adorable children dressed up as shepherds that we forget the challenges the family were facing at the time.
Mary, Joseph and Jesus would now be classed as refugees. By remembering this harsh reality, Christmas can be a time for us to reflect on the relevance of the story for today.
Currently one in every 108 people globally is either an asylum-seeker, internally displaced or a refugee, with nearly one person forced from their home every two seconds. People are forced to flee war, persecution, natural disaster or poverty. Often, they leave home with nothing, endure terrible conditions on their journey and are denied the protection and support they need in their chosen place of refuge, much like Mary and Joseph when they reached Bethlehem.
As the story we know so well tells us: Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken, so Mary and Joseph had to travel to Bethlehem. During the journey, Mary was very nearly ready to give birth to her baby. Although tired and weary, Mary and Joseph travelled for many miles to reach Bethlehem.
It can be easy to see refugees today as a “a statistic”, but it helps enormously to see them as people, with a face and a name and a personality. The UN has understood this well in recent times and today, a visitor to their website will find not only statistics and documents but also faces and names. Like the face and name of Hamida. Hamida who was forced to leave her home when her Rohingya community came under attack. Heavily pregnant at the time, she spent 10 days constantly walking to escape before going into labour. She says: “I was so scared giving birth, there was no one there to help me.”
Yet rather than learning from the tales of the past or present, there are still doors being shut in refugees’ faces through physical borders and the creation of hostile host environments:
“Migrants: How many more can we take”- Daily Mail
“Calais Crisis: Send in the dogs” – Mirror
“8 million foreigners” – Daily Telegraph
“Illegals have landed”- The Sun
“Britain says no to boat migrants”- Daily Express
This may seem a depressing topic to bring up around Christmas, but maybe this is the best time to acknowledge it, and maybe we should take the advice Pope Francis gave to the International Forum on Migration and Peace a few years ago: “Closing doors is not the solution… We all have the duty of welcoming our brother who flees from war, hunger, or violence…Our shared response may be articulated by four verbs: to welcome, to protect, to promote and to integrate”.
So before you tuck into your mince pies, have a think about how we may all do our part in remembering the Christmas story. And think how we could welcome the modern day Mary, Joseph and Jesus to our country, our town, our house … maybe even our festive table.