Bishop of Durham urges people to spare a thought for refugees

The Bishop of Durham, the Right Rev Paul Butler.
The Bishop of Durham, the Right Rev Paul Butler.

The Bishop of Durham is using his Christmas message to urge people to think about refugees.

Based on the Christmas story, the Right Revd Paul Butler explores being a refugee in a strange/unfamiliar place as a backdrop to the very real refugee situation we see this Christmas.

Refugees exist all over the globe. The reasons why people become refugees are many; some are purely economic migrants, seeking what they perceive will be a better life in a new land; some are forced by military or political force; some are suffering the effects of climate change and are seeking new fertile land for their animals and crops; some are fleeing persecution, terror and violence.

In our minds they tend to be all lumped together, when our response needs to be different for each.

Naturally in many cases we cannot easily divide people into simple categories as the reasons may be a complex mix.

But if I had fled from war with my family because I had seen members of my community killed, and I feared we might be next, and had somehow scraped together the money to help us buy a passage on a small boat and survived the precarious journey how would I hope to be treated?

The story of Jesus’ birth has two parts that speak into a world of refugees.

The journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem for Joseph and the heavily pregnant Mary was an enforced one.

The occupying Roman power required registration in the place of birth, not residence. Joseph and Mary by choice would have had their God-given child in Nazareth surrounded by the family and community.

Instead they are in temporary accommodation that lacked facilities. Yet this is the place where God is found.

Later, because of the threat of extreme violence, death, from King Herod himself, they have to flee into Egypt. They become refugees.

Even when it is safe to return they recognise that Nazareth will be safer than Bethlehem. The early years of Jesus are shaped by political force and violence.

It is not sweet and nice like the wonderful fun we have with nativity plays – don’t misunderstand me, I enjoy them as much as anyone.

The good news is that Jesus’ birth and life connects with our difficult, dirty, desperate world as well as its joyous side.

I like to think that if I had been in Bethlehem I would have offered the babe in the womb a welcome; that if I had been a shepherd I would have run into Bethlehem and rejoiced with Mary and 

I believe one way of showing that is to make asylum seeking refugees welcome in our communities in the coming years.

May we all this Christmas find ways of expressing care to the refugees of the world. Make it a happy Christmas for them too.