This Christmas season, churches across the country will tell the story of one refugee child.
The toddler and his parents made a late-night escape from their home country in the Middle East. Not long after, all boys his age, 2 and under, were ordered killed by the oppressive regime they fled.
The details seem to recall stories in the newspaper this year, perhaps that of Omran Daqneesh. A picture of the little boy — sitting stunned and bloodied in the back of an ambulance after a bombing in Aleppo, Syria — went viral in August.
But the story told in church this Christmas comes instead from the story of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem and flight from King Herod into Egypt, recorded in the biblical Book of Matthew.
“It’s maybe a part of the story we don’t like to focus on so much,” said Matthew Soerens, U.S. director of church mobilization at World Relief. “We like to end the story with the wise men bowing down before Jesus, and then the curtain comes down and we go home and have Christmas dinner. That’s not where the scriptural story ends.”
Anecdotally, World Relief, one of nine private agencies contracted with the U.S. government to resettle refugees, saw a significant increase starting last year in churches that wanted to help refugees, according to Soerens.
Many have connected the plight of refugees today with the Christmas story in the weeks leading up to the holiday, when Christians commemorate Jesus’ birth.
At the opening of this year’s Nativity scene in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis said the experiences of refugees recall “that of baby Jesus, who at the time of his birth could not find a place to stay when he was born in Bethlehem.”
Pastors in churches across the country have reached out to World Relief, looking for resources to place current events into the context of Christmas, Soerens said. “It’s not a fun topic for Christmas, but it is part of the story, and I think that’s why it’s so important – because it’s part of what’s happening in our world today,” Soerens said.