With Congress wrangling over amnesty for illegal aliens, the budget, taxes, earmarks, and the extension of unemployment benefits, it won’t be long before we hear liberals telling conservatives how unchristian they are for not voting for more government aid to help the poor. And they will appeal to the Bible in an attempt to make their point. Every Christmas season we hear the inevitable revisionist version of the Christmas story in order to further government programs. 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.” ((As reported in The Atlanta Journal/Constitution (December 28, 1991), A9.)) He repeated his “homeless couple” theme at the 1992 Democratic Convention:
We hear a lot of talk about family values, even as we spurn the homeless on the street. Remember, Jesus was born to a homeless couple, outdoors in a stable, in the winter. He was the child of a single mother. When Mary said Joseph was not the father, she was abused. If she had aborted the baby, she would have been called immoral. If she had the baby, she would have been called unfit, without family values. But Mary had family values. It was Herod—the [Dan] Quayle of his day—who put no value on the family.
Jackson made a similar claim about the biblical record in 1999 when he stated that Christmas “is not about parties, for they huddled alone in the cold stable. It isn’t about going into debt to buy extravagant presents; the greatest Gift was given to them although they had no money. It is about a homeless couple, finding their way in a mean time.” ((Jesse Jackson, “The Homeless Couple,” Los Angeles Times (December 22, 1999). The version of Jackson’s message “The Homeless Couple” can be found at www.rainbowpush.org/commentaries/1999/122299.html))
We can agree with Jackson that Christmas is not about Santa Clause and all the modern commercial trappings, but to turn the biblical account of the birth of Christ into a political hobby horse cannot supported by an actual study of the text of Scripture. Barbara Reynolds, a former columnist for USA Today, following Jackson’s early lead, scolded the Christian Right for opposing government welfare programs: “They should recall,” she writes, “that Jesus Christ was born homeless to a teen who was pregnant before she was married.” ((Barbara Reynolds, “These political Christians neither religious nor right,” USA Today (Nov. 18, 1994), 13A.)) Hillary Clinton, in comments critical of former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s homeless policies, sought to remind all of us that “Christmas celebrates ‘the birth of a homeless child.’” ((Cited in “Washington” under Politics in USA Today (December 1, 1999), 15A.)) Rev. William Sterrett told The Providence (RI) Journal the true Christmas story is about the poor and needy. “We have a very clear picture about the whole thing,” Sterrett said. “But the truth is Mary and Joseph were homeless. She gave birth to Jesus in a barn. This image captures the essence of a Christmas story because you cannot get any poorer than that.” Pat Nichols, writing for The Berkshire Eagle (Pittsfield, MA), concludes, “At the core, the story of Christmas is about a homeless couple about to have a baby. It is a story about poverty that most of us never experience, people with little more than they carry on their backs and a donkey to provide transportation.” ((Pat Nichols, “It’s time to offer a helping hand,” The Berkshire Eagle (December, 12, 2004).)) Have these people ever read the Bible?
- Mary did not engage in premarital sex. Her circumstances, to say the least, were unique (Luke 1:26-28). Many young girls got married as teenagers.
- 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.
- Mary and Joseph were actually married at the time she learned she was pregnant even though a formal ceremony had not taken place. Joseph is called “her husband” (Matt. 1:19).
- Joseph was a self‑employed carpenter (Matt. 13:55).
- An edict from the centralized Roman government forced Joseph and Mary to spend valuable resources of money and time to return to their place of birth to register for a tax (Luke 2:1-7). Joseph’s business was shut down while he took his very pregnant wife on a wild goose chase concocted by the Roman Empire to raise additional tax money.
- Typical of governments that make laws without considering the consequences, there was not enough housing for the great influx of traveling citizens and subjects who complied with the governmental decree (Luke 2:1).
- Mary and Joseph had enough money to pay for lodging. The problem was inadequate housing. The fact that “there was no room in the inn” (Luke 2:7) did not make them homeless. If we follow liberal logic, any family that takes a trip is by definition homeless and finds “no vacancy” signs is technically homeless.
- Joseph and Mary owned or rented a home. It was in their home that the wise men offered their gifts: “And they came into the house and saw the Child with Mary His mother, and they fell down and worshiped Him; and opening their treasures they presented to Him gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh” (Matt. 2:11).
- Joseph, Mary, and Jesus became a family on the run when Herod, a government official, became a threat to them (Matt. 2:13–15).
In 2006, Jesse Jackson got it right: “The story of Christmas is about a couple—Mary and Joseph—forced by an oppressive imperial government to leave their home to travel far to be counted in the census.” ((Jesse Jackson, “Peace is at the Heart of the Christmas Story,” Chicago Sun-Times (December 19, 2006). In a January 8, 2009 article, Jackson once again describes Joseph and Mary as a “homeless couple”: “The real story is about a homeless couple, immigrants ordered by the government to return home to be counted.”)) I’m amazed how politicians and social critics are quick to quote and misquote the Bible when they believe it supports their quirky political views. When conservatives appeal to the Bible, we hear the inevitable “separation of church and state,” “you can’t impose your morality on other people,” “religion and politics don’t mix.” The Bible is clear on moral issues that are culture killers: homosexuality, homosexual marriage, and abortion. The Bible is also clear on the moral issue of poverty. Nowhere in the Bible is civil government given authority to help the poor by raising taxes on the rich to pay for wealth distribution schemes. In fact, as history shows, the “war on poverty” became the war on the poor. ((Thomas Sowell, “‘War on Poverty’ has left nation in poorer condition,” The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (August 18, 2004), A13.))
We would be more accurate to say, the Christmas story is about how taxes hurt the poor and government decrees can turn productive families into the disenfranchised by enacting and enforcing a counterproductive laws.