Let Christmas Stories Inform Our Policies

by Sam Melden

Advent is on us, and it’s my favorite time of year. Advent is a season of deep breaths made for looking forward to a better day. And for those of us who come from a tradition connected to the way of Jesus, this season of Advent is also a season of good stories. Stories like that of Mary and Joseph — a young couple, miraculously expecting a child, and the difficult journey that would accompany bringing this life into the world. Angels appearing in dreams, men of wisdom visiting the family, and violent threats from the State come together in this story often portrayed in simple nativity scenes.

It is easy to breeze through this season, race to Christmas Day, and begin a new year without slowing down to consider the nature of the stories that inform the Christian faith. To do that would be to miss the magic of the season. The contemplative knows that we must ask good questions of the sacred texts and allow the texts to ask questions of us.

And, while I’m not even the most contemplative person living at my address, I try to give it my best. I try to approach these sacred stories with a sense of wonder, and allow them to ask questions back.

This original story of Mary and Joseph is about young parents welcoming their son into a dangerous world. A ruler, Herod, whose fear of losing power leads him to order the murder of all boys under 2 years old. A voice in a dream tells Joseph to take his family somewhere safe to increase the odds of the child’s survival. It’s a powerful story. It makes me wonder.

Where are the living nativity scenes in our world today?

Are there young parents in our world who are worried about their children’s survival?

What survival stories are being written as you read this?

Today there is a story of escape being written. A collection of human beings — the “caravan” from Honduras that traveled through Mexico, their sights set on the United States. The conditions they left behind and the expectations they had remind me of stories in the Bible. I think about the Exodus. I think about Mary and Joseph — Joseph waking up from his dream, and telling Mary what he was thinking. I picture them rising in the middle of the night, gently wrapping the baby, starting their journey. Then I think about those in the “caravan.” What kind of sleep are they getting to refresh their bodies? How are the child travelers? I even think about how their shoes are holding up. I wonder: how will their story end?

I’m reminded of other major themes of the Bible — welcome the stranger, look after the orphans and widows. That little baby, Jesus, who survived the trip with his parents, would grow up to teach us about how we should treat “the least of these.”

We have folks in our country who want to convince everyone we were “founded on the Bible” without considering the stories found within the Bible. It doesn’t take too much biblical literacy to see how the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob would want people of historic wealth and fortune to treat people who are running for their lives.

The Rev. William Barber II says we have many leaders in our country who “are saying so much about what God says so little, and so little about what God says so much.” The current presiding bishop of the Episcopal church, Michael Curry, calls President Trump’s America First rhetoric “a theological heresy for followers of Christ.”

And while we have a few brave voices speaking up, where are the rest? Over 80 percent of self-proclaimed Christians voted for President Trump. We often hear about our President speaking to his base and offering up policy positions that will keep those who voted for him happy and supportive. So what should that 80 percent do? How do we embody the way of Jesus no matter our political persuasion? Troops with tear gas is not the only alternative to open borders. It can’t be. And we need leaders of moral conviction to stand up and offer another way.

Is it really possible that the Christian can spend their Sundays worshiping and praying in sanctuaries, and then spend their Mondays denying their neighbor sanctuary in their city? We must work to find another way.

How can we work together to transform immigration policy while embodying a posture of compassion and love?

My hope this season is that Christian faith leaders in communities all around the country accept this invitation. Good questions are powerful. These sacred stories contain powerful questions. May we have ears to hear.