45.2 million people.
That’s the worldwide number of forcibly displaced people, based on UNHCR statistics. To put that into some sort of context, it’s like telling the entire population of Ukraine to go find somewhere else to live. The figures are staggering, so staggering, in fact, that they’re difficult to comprehend as anything other than faceless statistics. Humanity gets lost among debates over immigration and international intervention.
The counter to this is to tell stories, to incarnate the statistics. So groups like Refugee Action are giving displaced individuals a voice and a space in which they can tell of their experiences and emotions. It’s an important project.
Today’s the Feast of the Holy Family. It’s a commemoration of Jesus, Mary and Joseph as a family unit, but to see them as haloed icons does them a disservice. Even with four gospels full of events from the life of Christ, do we risk reducing him and the people around him to paintings and statues a and platitudes?
When Jesus was just a toddler, he received a visit from three wise men who brought with them strange gifts and looming danger. That night, the holy family went on the run, heading for Egypt to escape the psychosis of a jealous king. We’re presented with a refugee saviour, and God goes on the run.
(Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, God reminds his people that he’s the one who brought them out of Egypt. There’s a certain irony and vulnerability in the holy family being forced to retreat to that same country.)
This year I’ve been drawn to the who’s and wheres of Christmas, and so as we head out of the season, it’s worth noticing where Matthew’s gospel places Jesus as the stories around his birth conclude. He’s not studying with the wise men, he’s not hanging out with royalty. He’s a refugee and an asylum seeker; God incarnate stands alongside the displaced and the stateless, the vulnerable and the homeless. It’s a radical statement of where God’s priorities lie and the people who Jesus lives alongside.
That may be a challenge to our churches. It may be a challenge to our very conception of who God is. But Jesus is present in refugee camps sand homeless shelters as much as cathedrals or palaces, maybe even more so. When news reports from places like Syria focus on the massive numbers of displaced people, that fact should drive us to our knees.
Because the Refugee Saviour is still King.