Rest on the Flight into Egypt, by Luc-Olivier Merson, 1879

In these days when refugees seem to be in the news daily, often referred to as a “refugee crisis”, looking back over history we can see that nothing much has changed.

There are thousands of refugees leaving North Africa and Middle Eastern countries trying to reach Europe.  Some are fleeing war and oppression, simply trying to find a safe haven. Some are escaping famine and some are so called economic refugees, in no danger and seeking a better standard of living.

In the time of Christmastide it is often forgotten that the man whom Christmas is celebrated was a refugee. Soon after his birth, Jesus was taken by his family out of Israel, escaping to Egypt. Jesus step father, Joseph, the carpenter, was warned in a dream that it was not safe to stay in Bethlehem with reach of King Herod’s influence.

When the Magi from the east were following the star, searching for the Christ child, they had been given an audience with Herod. He asked them to tell him where they found the child. They did not and returned to their own country by another route, after meeting with the Holy family.

Herod, it seems, was neither a wise ruler nor did he feel secure in his position. When he heard that Jesus would be a king he feared his position as a king would be lost or taken from him. To try and keep his position secure he “gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old or under”. While clearly an evil act by Herod it is likely to have resulted in less deaths than popularly imagined. Probably in the low tens.

Jesus’ family did not return to Israel until after Herod’s death. Even then, when the holy family returned it was not to the area of Bethlehem but to Nazareth, beyond what had been Herod’s kingdom,now ruled by his son Archelaus, who was really only a regent for Rome.

Jesus status as a refugee was for his safety due to persecution by a regimen afraid of change, clinging on to power. Nothing has changed in all the centuries.



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