Opinion

Is the Christmas Story about a Homeless Couple and a Refugee Family?

For years liberals have tried to make the Christmas story about a homeless couple. Jesse Jackson was the first to turn Joseph and Mary into a “homeless couple” when he claimed that Christmas “is not about Santa Claus and ‘Jingle Bells’ and fruitcake and eggnog,” of which all Christians would agree, but about “a homeless couple.”1

He repeated his “homeless couple” theme at the 1992 Democratic Convention.

Hillary Clinton, in comments critical of former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s homeless policies, claimed that “Christmas celebrates ‘the birth of a homeless child.’”2

Like seasonal clockwork, there are some who are trying to make Jesus, Mary, and Joseph into a refugee family.

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The first item I saw was this:

If only we had a seasonally appropriate story about Middle Eastern people seeking refuge being turned away by the heartless.

It’s shocking to learn how ignorant people are about the Bible. Joseph and Mary were neither homeless nor refugees. Mary went to live with her cousin Elizabeth upon hearing about her pregnancy and “stayed with her about three months, and then returned to her home” (Luke 1:56). Presumably, her parents owned a home and did not throw her out when they learned of her pregnancy.

An edict from the centralized Roman government forced Joseph and Mary to spend money and time to return to their place of birth to register for a tax (Luke 2:1-7). Their place of birth – Bethlehem – was in Israel which was occupied by the Romans. They were not fleeing persecution.

Typical of governments that make laws without considering the consequences, there was not enough housing for traveling citizens (Luke 2:1).

The fact that “there was no room in the inn” (Luke 2:7) did not make them homeless any more than a family that takes a trip is by definition homeless if they encounter a “no vacancy” sign.

The best of what was available was offered to Mary and Joseph. They weren’t told to go back home. No one stopped them from entering Bethlehem. There is nothing in the text that shows they were treated harshly.

Someone obviously showed them hospitality since the Wise Men came “into the house” where Jesus was “with Mary His mother” (Matt. 2:11). It’s possible that the couple was back in Nazareth by this time.

Joseph was warned to escape from the treachery of Herod by going to Egypt.

[A]n angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up! Take the Child and His mother and flee to Egypt and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is going to search for the Child to destroy Him.” So Joseph got up and took the Child and His mother while it was still night, and left for Egypt. He remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: “OUT OF EGYPT I CALLED MY SON” (Matt. 2:13-15; Hos. 11:1).

Leftists have little regard for the Bible unless it can be used to scold Christians for judging righteously (Matt. 7:1-2; John 7:24) and support socialism based on voluntary giving (Acts 2:42-45; 4:32-35). In the same breath they refuse to acknowledge that the Bible teaches that unborn babies are human beings (“When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb…”: Luke 1:51) and afforded protection by the law (“so that her children come out”: Ex. 21:22), the practice of same-sex relationships is prohibited (Lev. 18:22; 20:13; Rom. 1:27; 1 Tim. 1:10), and same-sex marriage was never intended by God (Gen. 1:27; 2:24; 5:2; Matt. 19:4-6).

Here’s the latest example from Democrat Mary Anne Marsh:

In this season of Christmas as Christians around the world celebrate the birth of Jesus, it is important to remember the journey Jesus, Mary, and Joseph traveled. Their journey is recounted in the Gospel of Matthew where Mary and Joseph flee Judea for Egypt fearing Jesus would be murdered by King Herod. That journey, in an effort to save the life of Jesus, makes clear they were refugees.

First, Joseph, Mary, and Jesus were living within the confines of the Roman Empire. Egypt was part of the Roman Empire at the time of Jesus’ birth and their escape to the Roman Province of Egypt. The Roman Empire extended to Britannia. Paul had plans to go to Spain (Rom. 15:24, 28).

Second, there was a large Jewish population in Egypt in the first century. “In Josephus’s history, it is claimed that, after the first Ptolemy took Judea, he led some 120,000 Jewish captives to Egypt from the areas of Judea, Jerusalem, Samaria, and Mount Gerizim. With them, many other Jews, attracted by the fertile soil and Ptolemy’s liberality, emigrated there of their own accord. An inscription recording a Jewish dedication of a synagogue to Ptolemy and Berenice was discovered in the 19th century near Alexandria. Josephus also claims that, soon after, these 120,000 captives were freed of their bondage by Philadelphus.” (Wikipedia)

Third, the angel could have warned Joseph to go to other parts of Israel where Herod had no jurisdiction, except that there is typological significance for Jesus being “called out” of Egypt. Peter J. Leithart’s comments explain Israel’s reversal of fortune and why Joseph was commanded to go to Egypt. You see, Israel was the new Egypt (Rev. 11:8):

All along the way, the exodus gets reversed, inverted, subverted, turned inside out and on its head. The murderous king is not an Egyptian Pharaoh, but Herod, “King of the Jews.” The threatening land is not Egypt, but Israel. And the land where the Son finds safety is not Israel but Egypt. The new Moses comes to deliver His followers not from Egypt but from an Israel that has become no better than Egypt.

Fourth, there is a second part of the command given by the angel. They were to remain in Egypt until the angel told Joseph it was safe to return. After the death of Herod, they returned to Israel and avoided Judea because another Herod was ruling there. How many aliens and refugees return to their home nations after entering the United States?

Fifth, from Nazareth to Bethlehem, to Egypt, and back to Nazareth, Jesus, Joseph, and Mary never left the Roman Empire.

Sixth, let’s assume that Egypt was an independent nation at the time and not under the authority of the Romans. Does anyone believe that its leaders would not have protected its border if 10,000 Israelis demanded entry?

Seventh, it’s possible that Joseph and his family were scrutinized by Roman officials in Egypt. Since Joseph had a marketable skill as a τέκτων (tektōn), artisan/craftsman/carpenter (Matt. 13:53-55), he was permitted to stay.

There’s enough in the Bible to support the care of sojourners, strangers (Lev. 19:34), widows and orphans (Ps. 146:9), and resident aliens (Ex. 22:21) without making up stuff.

The modern refugee question is not about whether the United States should permit refugees to enter. Some type of “shibboleth” (Judges 12:1-6) is needed to weed out terrorists, gangs, sex traffickers, drug smugglers.

In addition, there needs to be an overhaul of our welfare system, not just for immigrants and refugees but for all Americans.

  1. As reported in The Atlanta Journal/Constitution (December 28, 1991), A9. []
  2. Cited in “Washington” under Politics in USA Today (December 1, 1999), 15A. []
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