Saturday, December 24, 2005

The Christmas Story

It's that time of year once more, when we retell the wonderful ancient story - of Jesus the asylum-seeker and refugee.

As is well known, Jesus and his parents had to flee to Egypt, the nearest safe country, to escape Herod's policy of 'post-natal termination' for all first born.

The Flight Into Egypt by Anibale Carracci.

But many people believe that the Holy Family then moved on across several continents, passing through many safe countries, before claiming asylum in the country of their choice - the country with the largest number of support groups, free housing and healthcare, and welcoming elites.

May I present -

Bishop Of Norwich -

"Herod kills all the young children in his attempt to destroy this newborn king. So Mary and Joseph escape to Egypt rather than returning to their home town and Jesus immediately becomes a refugee.
That's one of the things about the Christmas story that makes it contemporary. In Norfolk we count refugees, asylum seekers and migrant workers among our neighbours."

The Guardian's Karen Armstrong -

"There is no room for the holy family in the inn; in Matthew's gospel, Jesus becomes a refugee"

Ekklesia (Guardian Readers at prayer) -

"Jesus too was an asylum seeker"

The Age, Australia

So Jesus, the prophesied saviour, spent the first years of his life as a refugee, knowing fear and depending on the kindness and hospitality of strangers (also "Joseph and Mary were members of a small nation conquered by a global superpower.").

Bishop of Lichfield -

A Church of England bishop has attacked "sentimental" Christmas card portrayals of the Nativity, saying that Jesus's family were asylum seekers and the three Wise Men were part of an assassination plot.

Department Of Education -

UK Government "stimulus and activity sheet exploring the theme of Jesus as an asylum seeker" for use in UK schools.

Revd Jonathan Clark, Independent

"I think we forget that Jesus was an asylum seeker himself"

And a big shout for the Bishop of Worcester (twinned with Sodom)

"When Christmas happened, the violence of the Roman super-power gave way to the reign of the Prince of Peace and the force of a violent occupation had to yield to the weakness of a baby."

What could he be talking about ?

UPDATE - a commenter wants to know why I'm only picking on the CofE. I just went for the first stories I found on Google - life's too short to number all the people who say 'Hey ! Jesus was an asylum-seeker, too !' with the air of someone saying something 'new', 'radical', even 'transgressive'. Such people are numberless as the stars in the sky, or sand on the seashore.

But here goes ...

Catholic Weekly, Australia -

"Jesus was an asylum seeker, too"

Australian Catholic Migrant And Refugee Office -

"The Gospel presentation of the Holy Family as a refugee family and of Jesus Christ as a refugee before He was two years old is before us, so clearly, as we tonight participate in our Refugee Sunday service."

Let me check - Refugee Sunday - isn't that the third Sunday after Easter ? A historic Feast of the Church. "Shrive me now, Lord Bishop, I must away to Mass. Wit ye not 'tis Refugee Sunday ?"

Pope Benedict Blog

"Jesus himself will be remembered as an asylum seeker and immigrant."


paul said...

I'm sure some RC Bishops must have uttered similar conventional pieties about Jesus qua refugee/asylum-seeker. So why pick on the CofE?

Meaders said...

You mean Jesus wasn't a refugee? Fuck it, then.

Rachel said...

'But many people believe that the Holy Family then moved on across several continents, passing through many safe countries, before claiming asylum in the country of their choice - the country with the largest number of support groups, free housing and healthcare, and welcoming elites. '

May I present - '

But this is rubbish, none of the people that you quote say any such thing. Not one. They do however, make the point that Jesus/the holy family were technically asylum seekers, refugees, poor, to make a point about how we treat the refugees, asylum seekers, the poor at this time and throughout the rest of the year.

I don't get your point - what are you actually trying to say here?

That you disagree with their portrayal of Jesus as poor/a refugee or that you are inferring that all the people you have quoted are claiming Jesus ended up visiting their countries, which clearly they haven't said at all.

Pick holes in the gospel accounts, fine, but the New Testament narrative does at least clearly convey the sense of God born into poor and deserate humanity, housed in stables, visited by untouchables and murderously threatened by the political and ruling elites, which is a resonable message for religous leaders to talk about at this time, is it not? Since Christmas is not just a cosy story but does touch on themes of social justice and peace on earth, good will to all men?

I'm not even religious. But it does piss me off when people lay into things that they don't seem to know much about - knockign the religious is an easy target , but if you are going to have a go, at least try and be accurate and understand what they are writing about before criticising and making yourself look a plank for completely missing the point.

Jimmy Doyle said...

Rachel doesn't realise that Laban was trying to make a point about asylum seekers who travel through a number of other countries before finally declaring their status in the UK.

Nevertheless Rachel is entirely correct, and many of the religious persons made fun of in this post are interpreting the Christmas story in a natural and even inescapable way. Of course the Christmas story makes unprecedentedly vivid points about our duties to the poor, and to those fleeing persecution! The fact that so many religious figures point this out shows, not that it's an empty PC cliche, but that this is an undeniable dimension of the story. The suggestion that we should make our country less appealing a destination than those which asylum seekers pass through on their way here, on the grounds that other migrants, who aren't fleeing persecution, would otherwise take advantage of us, is really to deny the point of the story. That sort of argument is always available to those opposed to an immigration policy more humane than that of their country's neighbours. I'd be interested to hear what Laban thinks is the meaning of the story, if he doesn't think it's supposed to condemn that mode of argument.

paul said...

Thanks, Laban, that's more balanced and more interesting. Clearly, Jesus as asylum-seeker/refugee - like the laboured parallels between the US-in-Iraq and the Roman-superpower-in-Palestine - has become an inter-denominational homiletic cliche.