In the grand American tradition of politicizing Christmas, an image of a “nativity scene without Jews, Arabs, Africans or refugees”—which depicts an empty stable surrounded by a sheep, a cow, and a donkey — has been making the rounds on social media.
While Jerry Falwell, Jr. rejoices at being able to say “Merry Christmas” without fear of imprisonment for the first time since Bush left office, liberals everywhere are flipping through their Bibles looking for a way to put a damper on Trump supporters’ triumphalist Christmases.
The left loves using Scripture to expose what they see as the hypocrisy of the Christian right. On the first episode of “The West Wing,” President Bartlet quoted several obscure verses from Leviticus to demonstrate that a conservative talk show host’s opposition to homosexuality was based on bigotry, not religion.
During the legislative fight over Obamacare, Democrats were fond of quoting Christ’s commands to care for the poor and sick. Of course, they also turn around and argue that religion has no place in health care policy every time Planned Parenthood’s finds its funding threatened, so perhaps the Christian right aren’t the only ones proof-texting.
In claiming that Jesus was a refugee, however, the liberals are right. Sort of.
Mary and Joseph weren’t refugees in Bethlehem on the night that Christ was born. They came to town to fill out some government forms and became the victims of the overcrowding that resulted from all that imperially mandated travel.
Obviously, a stable isn’t the ideal place to give birth, but the situation could have been easily avoided if Joseph had thought to book rooms online before they left.
The Holy Family did, however, become refugees about two years later.
To quote countless terrible middle school essays, Webster’s Dictionary defines a refugee as “a person who flees to a foreign country or power to escape danger or persecution.”
Mary, Joseph and Jesus were in grave danger from the moment the Magi mentioned to King Herod that a figure known as the “King of the Jews” might be more than a legend. Matthew’s Gospel doesn’t tell us if they were subject to any extreme vetting at the Egyptian border, but the Christ child and his parents were certainly fleeing for their lives from an oppressive government.
There’s no way around it. Jesus was a poor Middle Eastern refugee, and because of that, those who claim to be his followers should always strive to place compassion above political expediency.
By massacring all the boys under two years old, Herod was doing the politically expedient thing. One imagines Mike Huckabee coming into the Fox News studio in Jerusalem to explain that this King of the Jews is a threat to national security and defend Herod by comparing the children of Bethlehem to a five-pound bag of peanuts with 10 poisonous ones mixed in — it’s safer to just toss them all out.
Whether it’s referring to refugees as “peanuts,” unborn children as “fetuses,” college students as “snowflakes” or laid-off manufacturing workers as “racist hicks,” we have a tendency to talk in ways that define whole groups of people as inanimate, unthinking, unfeeling pawns first and human beings second.
Obviously, abandoning such epithets wouldn’t resolve all our disputes. The risk of allowing Syrian refugees into our country must be weighed against the good we can do by accepting them. But the interests and humanity of those on both sides of the issue must be weighed when making policy decisions. The illegal immigrant is just as much a person as the parent of a child killed by an illegal immigrant.
The image of Mary and Joseph fleeing for their lives with a toddler in tow should remind all of us, right and left alike, that if Christmas has a political message, it’s this: governments should never lose sight of the humanity of those they govern.