I wrote last week about how we can connect personally to the Christmas story, by reading it mythologically. Here's another way--reading it politically.
According to Luke, Mary and Joseph were forced to return to the town of their ancestors to be enumerated. It is doubtful that this actually happened, at least in this way. A census did take place in 6 CE when the province of Judea fell under direct Roman rule. But people were likely counted where they were, in their homes.
But the story as Luke tells it grabs our sympathy. We think of this young man and his pregnant wife as displaced persons, thrown into the chaos of a mass migration, enduring the dangers and hardships of the road on the whim of a Roman governor. The setting becomes a bleak and poignant backdrop for the birth of the world's saviour. The power of this world, so often cruel and self-serving, is about to be challenged by the power of God, which is loving and self-giving.
There are almost 50 million refugees and displaced persons languishing throughout the world today. The largest movement right now is under-reported. Five million Venezuelans are fleeing political corruption and economic instability in their country, overflowing into the surrounding South American countries, who are ill-equipped to handle such numbers. Five million.
Mary and Joseph might become for us a way of relating to the plight of such an unimaginable throng of desperate people. Each one of them, like Mary and Joseph, must feel powerless in the face of the politics of the day. Yet each of them has taken the enormous risk of leaving their home because they have hope--that they will survive and that a better life awaits them.
Two thousand years ago, Luke's message goes, in the midst of darkness and chaos, a child was born, a sign of hope was given. Emmanuel--God with us. Is it still true today? Is God still with us? Is God still our hope? Let us show that God is as present in our own time as at the birth of Jesus. Let us be the hand of God that reaches out and cares for the forgotten, the political pawns caught in the back-handed sweep of the power brokers.
If you need a suggestion, you might consider becoming a donor to the UNHCR, the Refugee Agency of the United Nations. But at the very least, the plight of refugees the world over ought to be in our thoughts and in our prayers throughout this holiday season. That would help make the Christmas story very real to us indeed.