by Paul Gilbert
“Displacement” seems to be the operative word in the Gilbert household this season.
After a recent oven fire at our home on Greystoke Lane, the six Gilberts packed a few things and moved down the street to a hotel while the house could be restored from smoke damage. While having those awesome Hampton Inn waffles every morning was a nice consolation prize, being out of our home for the Christmas season has been a major bummer – parties cancelled, gifts not bought, holiday food not consumed, and relatives’ travel plans postponed.
In addition, doing the routine things each day has been made complicated by displacement. Getting the kids ready for school each morning has been more like running through an obstacle course. Packing lunches for the day from our mini- fridge has been a joke. But, caring for sick children during this time has been the straw that broke our sanity. Not to be a baby, but being displaced kind of stinks.
It seems that “displacement” has been a major, worldwide theme in 2015. Syrian refugees have fled to Europe to escape the ravages of civil war. Christian families in Iraq have fled for their lives as they have been literally driven from their homes by ISIS. Asylum seekers from the Sudan have sought refuge in the Middle East from war-mongering tyrants. And even on our own US southern border, over a thousand people a day have crossed into the U.S., looking to escape poverty and improve their quality of life.
Of course, it’s laughable to even mention our middle-class, suburbia displacement in the same breath as these scenes of true, human tragedy. Yet, our brief, Christmas-time refugee status has given us a new appreciation of the instability that characterizes millions of people’s lives every day around the world.
More importantly, we have been reminded, for just a moment or two, about the most severe case of displacement the world has ever known:
He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. (John 1:10-11 ESV)
What an amazingly tragic and heartbreaking thing the Apostle John shares with us here. Jesus made the world, He came into the world, and He reached out to the world. Yet, the very people he loved and created rejected him. The created turned their backs on their Creator.
This rejection of Jesus did not begin, after all, with the inauguration of his public ministry. His displacement began from the moment he was conceived. The birth stories that we celebrate annually at this time of year show us the first snapshot of Jesus’ refugee status on earth.
Mary and Joseph, wandering around in a strange, crowded city, with no place to lay their heads and no suitable place available to birth a baby. Instead, these three refugees made their home on Christmas Day in some sort of dark cave or stable. The Creator of all mankind traded in His glorious home in heaven for the filth of an animal trough. A refugee indeed.
It’s so easy to forget our own spiritual refugee status. With every comfort and technology imaginable afforded us, it’s so easy to see why this place we live in feels like home.
But it’s not.
As Peter reminds us, we are “sojourners and strangers” in this life, only passing through. This is why God graciously introduces suffering, chaos, change, and tumult into our lives – to remind us that the only sure and safe place to run to in this life is Him.
It’s strange to say, I know, but this small little kitchen fire at our house has actually been a grace from God. In the midst of our displacement God has shown our family that He alone is our “strong tower”. We may be displaced in our physical bodies but our God is with us creating stability in our inner man. Despite the chaos, He is creating something strong inside us that is reminiscent of our eternal home.
I realize that many of you have your own “kitchen fires” this season as well. It may not take place in a Hampton down the street, but I know it just the same. May you experience in it the true home of fellowship of the Baby in a manger.