Jesus was not a refugee at birth

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A church in California (of course) opted to create a nativity scene where Joseph, Mary and Jesus are all locked away in separate cages.

Lead Pastor Karen Clark Ristine spoke with CNN affiliate KABC about the scene outside of the church. “We thought about the most famous refugee family in the world, the family of Jesus,” Ristine said.

I am sure that scores her points in the political debate. However, Pastor Ristine may want to consult a Bible first.

At the time of his birth, Jesus was not a refuge. Not even close.

He was born in Bethlehem because his stepfather was ordered to return to the place of his own father’s birth.

Let’s do a quick Bible 101 lesson.

Luke 2:1-7 reports, “In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register.

“So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.

“While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.”

To correct Pastor Ristine’s theology:

  1. Mary and Joseph were FROM Israel and traveling IN Israel. They were not refugees fleeing anything.
  2. They were obeying the law by going to Bethlehem. They were not settling in Bethlehem illegally.
  3. They would certainly have paid for a room at the inn, if a room had been available.

I suspect that Pastor Ristine’s suggestion that the family were refugees could be tied to Matthew’s account of Jesus’ birth.

In Chapter 2, Matthew records that Mary and Joseph were visited by Magi, or wise men, who were looking for the Messiah.

Upon meeting the Magi and learning where the Messiah was to be born, King Herod ordered all boys two years old and younger to be murdered. That’s why Jesus fled to Egypt with his family, and this could have happened up to two years after his birth.

Keep in mind the Bible records the Magi delivered gifts to Jesus that included frankincense, myrrh and gold. No doubt the gold would have covered any costs the family incurred getting to and from Egypt and staying there for a short time BEFORE returning to Joseph’s home in Nazareth.

Nor does the Bible say now long the family was in Egypt. It could have been a few days, a few weeks, or a few months. The trip was done to fulfill one of the many ancient prophecies predicting Jesus’ arrival, this one from Hosea 1:11, which said, “…and out of Egypt I called my son.”

So, to suggest for even a moment that Mary, Joseph and Jesus were refugees is completely unbiblical.

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Greg Gerber

A native of Wisconsin who moved to Arizona in 2009, Greg Gerber is a DODO -- Dad of Daughters Only -- to three grown daughters. He worked as a journalist for many years before pursuing a career as a faith-based writer, author, coach and speaker. Greg is the author of Pornocide: How Lust is Killing Your Faith, Stealing Your Joy and Destroying Your Life.

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