THEIR HEARTS ARE GREEDY…In the midst of a refugee camp in Northern Iraq, a tent was set up for Baby Jesus. Because they had been forced to flee their homes, these Christians identified with Him as a fellow refugee, well acquainted with their struggles. Though He was born with nothing, their witness was Jesus “gives us everything.”
This truth should jolt us Christians to the core. The popular concept of our traditions is Baby Jesus sleeping sweetly “in heavenly peace”, in all His nativity pageantry, surrounded by shepherds, angels and wise men. And of course, the pomp and circumstance of a full orchestra and accomplished vocalists are added in for the full effect.
Nothing could be further from the truth. God’s Word plainly tells us when Jesus was born, he literally had no room to lay His head. Displaced from their home by a forced census, the family soon found themselves having to take refuge anyway they could.
Many historians believe Jesus was probably born in one of several caves that dotted the hillsides, set aside for the protected birthing of livestock. The Church of the Nativity was built over just such a cave in Bethlehem, and is believed by many to be the birthplace of Baby Jesus.
God's Word says His bed was a livestock feeding trough known as a manger. He was wrapped in cloths Jewish history says were used to swaddle blemish-free newborn lambs, selected to become the blood sacrifice in the Holy Temple.
Yes, God had a Perfect Plan in place, especially in the refugee status of Jesus. When shepherds were notified that they would find "the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger" they knew exactly who they would find that night: the Sacrificial Lamb of God, destined to become the Blood Offering for the sins of the world!
Years later, after the Magi came to visit Him bringing gifts fit for a King, Jesus' family struggled to keep Him alive, and were forced to flee in the middle of the night and seek asylum in Egypt. They were displaced there for years before making Nazareth their home.
So, are we willing to celebrate the birth of Jesus the way it REALLY happened? Are we ready for a cantata complete with the stench of barnyard refuse, and the wonderful ambiance of damp, stinking hay tinged with putrid water dripping down cave walls? And don't forget to turn off the heat so we can all experience the authentic bone-chill of the "holiday" season.
For awhile, we'll breathe a little easier as we move past the cave concept to different scenery, just in time for the wisemen to appear. But soon we'll have the weight of the impending murder of the Toddler Jesus bearing down upon our souls. No telling what kind of scenery we will endure to depict Jesus, Joseph and Mary, walking 350 miles, as fast as they can, out into the vast desert, seeking refugee asylum in a country completely foreign to them. We'd ALL be waiting around awhile for that to happen!
Today, Bethlehem is currently under the Palestinian Authority. That means the birth of Jesus, and His first few years seeking refuge, occurred entirely in the Middle East, where there are still 6.6 million refugees at risk this winter season. Some of them have probably put in the same foot mileage the Holy Family did at the birth of Jesus, and a few have probably spent long days and nights in some of the very same places.
Later, it's obvious that a grown-up Jesus chose to continue that refugee status when He said he had “nowhere to lay his head” (Matthew 8.20; Luke 9.58).
Further, Jesus asked His disciples to follow in His footsteps in Luke 9:1-6: "When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal the sick. He told them: 'Take nothing for the journey—no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra shirt. Whatever house you enter, stay there until you leave that town. If people do not welcome you, leave their town and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.'" This same scripture is repeated in Mark 6.8–11 and Matthew 10.9–11.
If following Jesus the refugee is NOT in our hearts, then what IS there? It's no coincidence that God reveals our heart condition in the lesson appointed for December 13th on our 2018 Gregorian calendar, the 10th month and 5th day on God's calendar. It’s a reminder from another time and place when a religious people became focused on what they were convinced THEY needed instead of yielding to GOD'S direction and His provision.
Ezekiel 33:23-26 begins with the Almighty's reply to the lamenting people of Judah who have come before the prophet Ezekiel, seeking God’s restoration and approval. A refugee had escaped and come to Ezekiel with first-hand news. “In the twelfth year of our exile, on the tenth month on the fifth day, a man who had escaped from Jerusalem came to me and said, 'The city has fallen'. Then the Word of the Lord came to me, 'Son of man, the people living in those ruins in the land of Israel are saying, "Abraham was only one man, yet he possessed the land. But we are many; surely the land has been given to us as our possession." Therefore say to them, 'This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Since you eat meat with the blood still in it and look to your idols and shed blood, should you then possess the land? You rely on your sword, you do detestable things, and each of you defiles his neighbor's wife. Should you then possess the land?’”
The people who lived in Jerusalem took pride in the fact that they observed the Word of God, and were the rightful inheritance of Abraham's blessing. They were so haughty and secure, they pronounced peace upon themselves, and reasoned that they deserved it. The real truth was their daily lives were full of religious hypocrisy and disrespect for the Almighty’s Word, which He pointed out in no uncertain terms. And now, their expectation, indeed their self-righteous prayer, was that God would look favorably on them and restore their nation to peace?
No, this is not just a Bible lesson from 585BC that just happens to occur in the season when many are celebrating the birth of Jesus. This is a full-blown warning for this specific time on God's calendar to any people who tout themselves as "under God', and pray for His protection, but ignore God's warning to repent of their many sins.
A prophet is not responsible for the salvation of those He speaks to. God will take care of that. But He IS responsible for warning folks of what is coming. "Say this to them: 'This is what the Sovereign LORD says: As surely as I live, those who are left in the ruins will fall by the sword, those out in the country I will give to the wild animals to be devoured, and those in strongholds and caves will die of a plague. I will make the land a desolate waste, and her proud strength will come to an end, and the mountains of Israel will become desolate so that no one will cross them. Then they will know that I am the LORD, when I have made the land a desolate waste because of all the detestable things they have done.'’ Ezekiel 33:27-29.
Sounds like God's plan was to make prideful religious people refugees in their own land! Maybe then, they would finally "get it".
Indeed, the refugee status of God's chosen people was VITAL to His overall plan of redemption. Our response to the identity Jesus chose for Himself and us separates the sheep from the goats in the very last parable Jesus taught. “Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” Matthew 25:45-46.
God sums it all up with His words to Ezekiel 33:31-33 “My people come to you, as they usually do, and sit before you to listen to your words, but they do not put them into practice. With their mouths they express devotion, but their hearts are greedy for unjust gain. Indeed, to them you are nothing more than one who sings love songs with a beautiful voice and plays an instrument well, for they hear your words but do not put them into practice. When all this comes true--and it surely will--then they will know that a prophet has been among them."
So what exactly is this "greedy for unjust gain"? While many Christians are spending $569 billion on a man-made "holyday" called Christmas, consider this quote from a Christian refugee from Bagdad living in a tent in Bethlehem. “…When Christmas is over, when you have had all your presents and food, Jesus is all we have left.”
Yes, after we’ve had all the things we thought we needed and couldn't get enough of, what we really needed was a refugee who didn’t have presents, celebrations and food, to remind us that all we ever really needed in the first place, WE ALREADY HAVE IN JESUS!
THEIR HEARTS ARE GREEDY...
Listen to "Away From The Manger: The Refugee King"
Lyrics: Away from the manger they ran for their lives
No stars in the sky but the Spirit of God
Stay near me LORD Jesus when danger is nigh