It is a good thing Jesus is the bringer of peace and forgiveness because every Christmas He must be sorely tempted to do quite a bit of smiting. It’s not the commercialisation of His birthday that would bother Him so much as the slanders on the good name of His earthly family.
Brothers and sisters, let us shun those who every year at this time proclaim that Joseph and Mary were a homeless couple! There are lies, which all Sunday schoolers know are sins, and then there are those gigantic, jaw-dropping whoppers which come with little horns and pitchforks and do the devil’s work, and this annual misrepresentation of the Holy Family is one of the biggest of the lot.
Those who would have us believe that Mary and Joseph were a couple of down-on-their-luck bums are also inclined to drop a lot of hints that Jesus might have had a better start in life if only Caesar had collected just a bit more tax to “invest” in government-approved mangers. Others seem to be under the impression that Mary and Joseph arrived in landlocked Bethlehem aboard a leaky boat.
Atheists and believers differ on whether or not God can move mountains, but there is no doubt Jesus is always being asked to lend a hand when there is a barrow to be pushed, and often by the most unlikely suspects.
Consider a tweet some years ago from the NSW University of Technology then-professor of journalism Wendy Bacon, who broadcast a message of support for the illegal arrivals she prefers to call asylum seekers. She was commenting favourably on another Twitter user’s photo of a sign outside a Brisbane church that assured refugees “there’s plenty of room at the inn.”
Now it should come as no shock that Bacon, a lifelong radical, rejected the quaint notion that it should be policy, rather than people smugglers, deciding how and when they arrive. What did surprise was Bacon’s sudden respect for Christianity. The last time there is a record of her tapping into the spiritual came when she was charged with obscenity and appeared in court dressed as a nun. Just to make sure the magistrate knew how she felt about religion, her habit bore a graphic announcement claiming intimate knowledge of “God’s steel prick“.
How many refugees saw that church’s sign and appreciated its sentiment is unknown, although the ready guess is that the number would have been few. Then again, boat people were never the intended audience. Why shouldn’t the self-righteous give themselves a little Christmas treat by putting their virtue on display for all to admire? Moral superiority, real and imagined, always makes you feel lovely and warm inside – warmer than a drowned boat person, certainly.
Again in recent memory, copies of the Australian Catholic Bishops’ statement on social justice, Lazarus at Our Gate, were distributed to the faithful and — surprise! surprise! — Australia was relegated to Santa’s naughty list.
“The recent increase in the number of people arriving by boat is insignificant by world standards,” the bishops wrote. “In 2012 … as Pakistan struggled to accommodate 1.6 million refugees, Australia’s political leaders and media whipped up hysteria over the arrival of 17,000 asylum seekers.”
At Eureka Street, a website run and funded to their eternal shame by the Jesuits, St Vincent de Paul Society then-chief executive John Falzon came in on Christmas cue with the hope that capitalism (“not a natural system”) will be replaced by something kinder to outcasts and people like Jesus, who, he assures readers, was “born on the fringes of society”.
This is just too much! It is one thing to see Wendy Bacon misrepresenting a theology she once thought worthy only of a blasphemous, look-at-me parody, but quite another when the chief executive of a religious charity can’t grasp the real meaning of that night in a stable long ago.
Fact is, Mary and Joseph were victims of Big Government – and you can take that as the gospel truth, courtesy of the Gospels themselves. Why did they leave their home in Nazareth? Because the Emperor Augustus ordered all Roman subjects to return to their ancestral homes for a census, thus wasting the couple’s time, money and sandal leather to extract information that might have been just as easily obtained if they had been allowed to remain in their own home.
Why were there no rooms available? Because, after issuing the order to hit the road and be counted, Tiberius made no provision to accommodate the overnight population surge.
But surely Mary and Joseph were homeless outcasts, right?
Well, they were away from home but certainly not homeless. Joseph was a carpenter, according to the New Testament, and therefore a skilled artisan – about as likely to be mistaken for a homeless man as the next tradie you see scooting by in a ute.
How Jesus might feel about these misrepresentations is anyone’s guess, but one thing is for sure: those who paint Him as an outcast should give thanks that the Jehovah of the Old Testament, forever afflicting wrongdoers with plagues and torments and rains of frogs, was replaced in Jesus’ teachings with the God of Love. Otherwise we could expect an annual blitz of lightning bolts raining down every year at this time.
Whoops! Shouldn’t have mentioned that. Given the recent hailstorm that lashed Sydney, your Left theologians will be claiming the icy blitz was God’s punishment for ignoring, well, whatever policy happens to to be flavour of the month.
This column, now slightly edited and updated, first appeared in The Daily Telegraph in December, 2013