The Christmas Story is Not about 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 fruit cake 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.

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.”

Then there was the following meme posted by an atheist group:

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 time and money 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.

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

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).3

It was only later that Joseph, Mary, and Joseph became refugees in order to escape the treachery of a single civil official — Herod.

“[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).

After the death of Herod, Joseph returned to Israel and resettled in Nazareth (Matt. 2:19-23).

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 but are there terrorists among them. Some type of “shibboleth” is needed to separate any terrorists from legitimate refugees (Judges 12:1-6).

  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. []
  3. It’s possible that the couple was back in Nazareth by this time. []
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