Today – 2000 years after the birth of Jesus – Christmas celebrations are extravagant events, full of food and drink, gifts and decorations, laughter and merriment. We travel great distances to gather with family and friends. We reflect on God’s grace in our lives, and His grace revealed in the tender flesh of a baby, resting in a feeding trough in a barn in the village of Bethlehem.
For our refugee friends here in Athens, however, such celebrations are often difficult reminders of the lives that they have left behind: the houses they abandoned; the possessions they sold; the family and friends that they haven’t seen in months, or even years. For these refugees, Christmas is often a season of loneliness and desperation.
Reflecting on these two quite different experiences of Christmas, there is little question that Jesus can readily identify with the refugee experience. Fleeing the tyranny of King Herod, Joseph and Mary traveled to Egypt with the infant Jesus as refugees, leaving behind the lives they knew in ancient Palestine (Mat. 2:13ff).
Although often overlooked, this reality (i.e. Jesus as refugee) perfectly illustrates the hope of Christmas. As the Word-of-God-in-flesh, Jesus is indeed unique in all of history, but He was also fully human. He knows the power of temptation, yet defeated it (Heb. 4:15). Jesus experienced the agony and despair of suffering, and yet withstood it for our sake (Heb. 2:9, 10, 18). Since Jesus so intimately knows our pains and temptations, He offers us strength: “Draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16). This is the grace of God for us in Christ Jesus. This is the hope of Christmas.