If you follow the news for any length of time, you will eventually come across a story about a refugee crisis somewhere in the world. People, many with just the clothes on their backs, are fleeing from repressive regimes. Many have no other options than that of living in refugee camps. Or, if they are able to escape to another country, they often have to scramble just to survive.
As we consider the miraculous nature of Christmas, the virgin birth, the Son of God as an infant, Jesus being both God and man, it’s all just so wonderfully overwhelming. And yet there is a detail that is often overlooked: Jesus was a refugee!
The account in Matthew substantiates this: An angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and fleet to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt (Matt 2:13-14).
But I get ahead of myself. There is so much to the account that sets the stage for this fleeing in the middle of the night…
A King in Exile
The second chapter of the Gospel of Matthew starts this way: Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him” (Matt 2:1-2).
Matthew further notes that when Herod the king found out about this visit, he became disturbed. Perhaps it was the perceived political threat of a new king in town that did it for Herod. Or, maybe he was jealous that this new king could inspire such worship that would draw wise men from the east. Regardless, he began scheming on how he would get rid of this One who was born King of the Jews.
When the wise men arrived, not only did they worship Jesus but they also presented gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. And these were not just what we would think of as ordinary baby shower gifts, these were gifts fit for a king. While the text does not explain why these particular gifts were given, we can look at culture and tradition for some possible answers.
Fit for a King
Gold was particularly associated with royalty and nobility. It was also a symbol of divinity. It is quite possible that in giving this gift, the wise men may have been pointing to Jesus being a king with an everlasting throne.
Frankincense is an aromatic resin used in incense and perfumes. It was mixed with oil and was used to anoint the priests of Israel. In presenting this gift, the wise men may have been pointing to Christ as our great High Priest. Frankincense was also incense that was used at the altar and, as such, was supposed to be pure and set apart as holy. This might also point to the fact that Jesus would live a pure and holy life and would offer His own life as a pure and holy sacrifice to God.
Myrrh is also an aromatic resin and was an ingredient both in anointing oils and oils used for embalming. In view of the latter, it was a symbol of death. Perhaps the wise men, in giving this gift, were pointing to the manner in which Jesus would save his people, namely, that in His humanity, He would die for their sins.
After all this worshipping and gift giving had occurred, the disturbed and scheming Herod issued a proclamation to kill all male children two years of age and under in an effort to get rid of this new King.
What Matthew then recorded is a divine rescue plan that was revealed after the wise men had departed. An angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and told him to take the child and his mother to escape to Egypt to protect Jesus from Herod. Thus Mary, Joseph and Jesus fled and became refugees.
One of the things that I marvel at in all this is the sovereignty of God. Not only did Mary, Joseph and Jesus escape to Egypt to fulfill prophesy, but it is also very probable that the very gifts that the wise men brought were God’s provision for Mary, Joseph, and Jesus. This provision likely paid both for their escape and also for their needs while living in Egypt as refugees.
If that is indeed true, just think about it. God prompted wise men months, perhaps even years in advance to come from the east with very valuable gifts. The wise men arrived with the gifts at just the right time to provide for Jesus and his earthly family to escape to Egypt to live as refugees. Talk about great advance planning!
So, whether the gifts were designed to be purely financial in nature in order provide for Jesus, Mary and Joseph or whether the symbolism points to something greater or both, we can only really wonder. So, while we are wondering, just think how each gift can paint a picture for us today with each uniquely designed to draw our attention to Jesus:
The gift of gold paints a picture of Jesus as king.
The gift of frankincense paints a picture Jesus as our great High Priest. And this great High Priest didn’t just offer any acceptable sacrifice but He offered Himself as the perfect lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.
The gift of myrrh paints a picture of the cross. The cross was where Jesus willingly gave up His life to save His people from their sins.
May the many miracles of the Christmas season prompt you to worship Jesus who was once a refugee among the very people He created!