Luke 9:57-58 “As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”
My phone rang yesterday and I saw an unfamiliar, out of state number. I answered and a foreign voice was on the other end.
“May I speak to Alan Cross?” The accent seemed Middle Eastern? African? I could not place it.
A bit nervously, I answered, “This is he.”
He told me his name was Charles and someone gave him my phone number and knew I was an Evangelical that worked with immigrants. The referral matched up relationally, so I proceeded with the conversation. He wanted to call to ask for advice, since he too is a Christian and wants to follow the Lord. He said he was from Kenya and is now in New York City going to school, but his visa does not allow him to work and he is completely destitute. He has the opportunity to work “off the books,” but his conscience is troubled and what is he to do? He is here legally, but is now penniless and has no way to survive.
I asked him if he did not realize this situation when he applied for the visa and came and he said he did not, and that in other countries, students are allowed to work legally. He asked if it was okay to ignore the law and work anyway, since God would have him care for his family and if he does not he is worse than an infidel (1 Timothy 5:8). But, then he brought up Romans 13 and the need to obey the law and authorities. Which truth should he follow? Should he starve? I told him that I understood his dilemma and that I would refer him to a Christian ministry I knew in New York City and I would pray for him. He thanked me. I told him that he should obey the law and that disobeying it would cause further problems, especially since he was here legally on a visa and he agreed to follow the law when he applied for and accepted his visa. He agreed with my advice and said he would trust God. We have spoken a couple of times since and emailed as I am referring him to the other ministry for help.
This morning, I was with my family in a Christmas Eve service and the Christmas story was prominent, obviously. And, I could not help but think that Jesus was with Charles in a significant way. Here is a young man trying to do the right thing and trying to figure out how to live under the requirements of the state, even when they were very difficult, as he tried to honor God. Then, I began to think about the 65 million refugees around the world, and the millions more international and internal migrants.
Over 1 billion people in the world are migrants, or more than 1 in 7 people globally. The figure includes the stock of international migrants – people residing in a country other than their country of birth – whose number reached 244 million in 2015, up by 41 per cent since 2000; and it includes internal migrants – around 740 million, according to 2009 UNDP estimates, of whom over 150 million are rural-urban migrants in China.
One in seven people on the planet are migrants, immigrants, sojourners, and refugees. One in seven people have been forcibly displaced or have moved or traveled from their home for economic, safety, or survival reasons. We live on a planet where people are on the move in a significant way. There are lots of Charles’ out there this Christmas season.
If you step back, the whole Christmas story is one of migration, sojourning, refugees, and immigration. The idea of sojourning is in the background of the whole story and gives the Nativity its context and scope. A brief summary:
- Mary travels to visit Elizabeth and stay with her for awhile after she is pregnant with child.
- Joseph migrates with Mary to Bethlehem for the census. When they arrive, they do not have a place to stay just for them and probably stay with distant relatives and bed down among the animals in a stable, which might have been part of a relative’s house.
- They are attended to and worshiped by shepherds, poor, common workers who were likely illiterate. They might not have been total outcasts, but they were definitely at the lower end of the social hierarchy. This is who the angel announces the birth of Jesus to.
- Wise Men sojourn from the East to worship Jesus. These would have been gentiles astrologers, likely Persian followers of Zoroaster. They follow the star and come to Bethlehem, meet Herod, and are told to report back to him the whereabouts of the child. They follow the star further, find Jesus, and bring gifts to him fitting for a king. An oft missed part of the story is that God brings pagans from foreign nations to worship Jesus at his birth, prophesying what the result of his life, death, and resurrection would be and fulfilling what was prophesied in Isaiah 60:1-6.
- Herod hears about the birth of a rival king and orders the murder of all of the boys under two years old in and around Bethlehem. Joseph, Mary, and Jesus, warned by an angel, escape the reach of the king who has ordered that they be killed, and they flee to Egypt, becoming refugees.
- After a time and Herod’s death, they immigrate back to Israel and settle again in Nazareth where Jesus grows up.
Jesus’ ministry was one of sojourning from place to place to minister to people in need and to proclaim and demonstrate the Kingdom of God. He did not have a home. He said he had no place to lay his head of his own. He was the Sojourning Savior, the Migrant King, with no throne room or palace to rule from. Yet, he was the Son of God and the Sovereign King of the Universe – before all things and in whom all things held together (Col. 1:17).
“Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” – Hebrews 2:17-18
One out of every seven people on the planet – over 1 billion people – the population of the human race in 1800 – are spending this Christmas having migrated away from their homeland and are living in a new place far from home. They are immigrants, migrants, sojourners, and refugees. They are asylum seekers, people who left home for economic reasons, people who are living in regions and areas different from their homeland, people in exile who have lost tribe, home, family, friends, and their place in their society – and who are trying to make a new life for themselves. Some are doing very well. Others are struggling mightily. How can the church be the church for them? How can we make room for them?
It strikes me that the Christmas story is not just about home, family, presents, lights, great food, gift giving, and wonderful celebrations. Christmas is also about the sojourner and the migrant, the wanderer and the refugee. And, Jesus was one of them. Those who came to worship him were sojourners as well. Mary and Joseph were migrants and refugees as well. The whole Nativity Story is one of how God works in the lives of travelers and refugees who leave the land they know and go to the land that God shows them. That is the Christmas story too and Jesus is at the center of it. He was not born in a palace or in safety or prosperity. Jesus, the heart of the Christmas Story, of course, was born to sojourners and lived with his family as a refugee. What does that tell us about God? What does that tell us about His salvation and those He came to save? What does it tell us about God’s heart and work today? Of course, we are all displaced from our true home because of sin – whether we have physically moved or not. Jesus comes for all of us to save us from our sins. And, I am glad He came for me and so grateful He found me.
I am praying for Charles tonight, on Christmas Eve – away from his homeland and struggling to figure out how to live here and how to follow God. We’ve emailed again today and I was able to make contact with that ministry in New York City. They have invited him to join them for worship tomorrow – on Christmas Day – and I sent the message on. I am glad. Charles again reminds me to ask, how can we make a home for the sojourner? How can we welcome the stranger in Jesus’ name? When we do, we join in the real Christmas and make room for Jesus in our hearts – and also welcome those He came for.