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 do it in the December 26, 1988 issue if Jet Magazine. The title of the article was “Jesse Jackson Tells the Real Meaning of Christmas.”
He made the same claim in 1991. ((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.”
Apparently no one ever called Jackson on misappropriation of the biblical record for political gain, because in 1999 Jackson made stated that Christmas “is not about parties, for [Mary and Joseph] 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).))
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 that 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? The Christmas story is about government oppression:
- 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).
- Joseph had a job as a self‑employed carpenter (Matt. 13:55).
- An edict from the centralized Roman government forced Joseph and Mary to spend valuable resources 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 had to comply 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 a “no vacancy” sign is technically homeless. But let’s not give the government any ideas.
- 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 worshipped Him; and opening their treasures they presented to Him gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh” (Matt. 2:11).
- Joseph, Mary, and Jesus were a family on the run when Herod, a government official, became a threat to them (Matt. 2:13–15).
Politicians and social critics are quick to quote and misquote the Bible when they can twist its message to support 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 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 law.