Associated Press Posted on December 1, 2009 at 1:15 PM
HOUSTON—Happy holidays — now where’s that immigration paperwork?
Several programs providing Christmas gifts for needy children are checking immigration status first, requiring at least one member of the household to be a U.S. citizen before handing over toys. The Salvation Army and a charity affiliated with the Houston Fire Department are asking for children’s birth certificates or Social Security cards.
I own a construction business in Phoenix, a high “illegal immigrant population state”. I know both the problems with finding competent, motivated and responsible “white guys” to work and I also know the issues with abuse of the American system by savvy illegals and savvy “legal white trash”. I know that some people who get assistance and charity aren’t “poor”, but my 40+ years of experience with the “poor”, illegals, drug addicts, homeless etc. is that immigration status or citizenship is not a good indicator of legitimate need or tendency to “work the system”. Basically this podcast is not about the politics of immigration but the impact of politics on our Christian attitude toward the poor regardless of their earthly kingdom’s legal status. So I’ll say up front, please don’t email me about the politics of immigration, if you are tempted to do that I apologize that I didn’t articulate what I’m trying to say very well. That said, I think we’ve finally gotten what our politics and even many Christians have hoped for: It looks like “immigration policy” has finally trumped Jesus Christ as the “reason for the season”.
It seems to me that the birth of Christ is exposing the truth about the state of the world, just as it did 2000 years ago. Many claim America is a “Christian nation”, yet at the season of the greatest Gift, the birth of Christ, we’ve politicized the celebration of His Incarnation by legislating the boundaries of unconditional Christian charity and grace in His honor because of our “politics of the aliens among us”. When Jesus came, He was a stranger to His people as St. John says in his gospel. When Jesus came as a poor and homeless child, He threatened Herod’s kingdom and Herod killed the children to protect his political status and nation. When the Jewish leadership met to discuss Jesus they determined it was politically expedient to kill Him “lest the Romans come and take away our status and our nation.” When Pilate was confronted with the person of Christ, he delivered Him to be crucified to save himself and his political career.
The politicians and pundits tell us that the illegals threaten our status and our nation. They threaten our lifestyle because they threaten our economic wellbeing. They are a burden on our society because the suck up our resources.
The Jews were commanded to welcome the sojourner among them. They were to leave a tithe of their fields for the alien and the poor to glean and this was in addition to their offerings at the temple. As Christians we are to exceed the righteousness of the Pharisee. As a “Christian nation” do we exceed the demands of the imperfect Law or do we follow Herod, Pilate and the High Priest and his council and trample under foot the gift of God to preserve our comfortable kingdom? Jesus did not come to rule the world. He already ruled it. He did not come to establish economic equality, stability and set aright the governments of this age. His Kingdom is not of this world and His coming made manifest the meaning of the Psalters words, “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we will call on the Name of the Lord.”
Jesus came to expose the world for what it is, what it has become through sin, and to save it through an Unspeakable Gift given without regard for citizenship and politics, morals and religion, power or wealth. We are all equally aliens on the earth, sojourners and strangers, we are all poverty stricken, hungry and destitute, all enemies of God and estranged from one another. It would seem that once a year The Gift of unconditional love could be emulated by those who claim to be giving in the “spirit of the season”.
The real bottom line is that we are all aliens to the Kingdom of heaven and basically have taken advantage of, squandered, been ungrateful, abused and taken for granted God’s Gift to us. Our attitude toward giving alms to the undeserving poor in the Nativity season is a reflection of our understanding of our salvation. How we see our own spiritual state and need will determine how we define “undeserving poor”, or the poor as “qualified by our standards”. In my mind this is a spiritual principle that cuts across political issues. I’d have no issue with a secular/political, government sponsored agency requiring ID because that is what earthly kingdoms do, but the Salvation Army, a self-proclaimed Christian agency, doing that is unthinkable to me. (For more on my thoughts on the Christian response to the poor and almsgiving check out my podcast “Homeless, Hungry, God Bless” on Steve the Builder at Ancient Faith Radio).
I get email spam every year at this time about the politics of “keeping Christ in Christmas”. The ACLU heats up, lawsuits get filed, Christian organizations use the season to fundraise to protect our faith from the pagans in government. Given the politics that surrounded the Gospel of the Incarnation 2000 years ago, in a way it is ironic that Christians are using the legal and political arena and economic pressures on retailers who eschew using the term “Christmas” to get their say in the culture. The American Family Association is a Christian watchdog organization, and on their website they have a list of retailers that are Christmas friendly, marginalizing Christmas and anti-Christmas. Fr. Christian Mathis commented on my blog about this. He said:
I often wonder why it is that Christians get so upset at retailers who do not keep Christ in Christmas. Is that the role of stores at the mall….to promote the Gospel? Or is it the job of Christians? Just a thought…
It is indeed a very good thought. In one sense it seems as we get further away from Christmas, we are actually getting closer to it being truly “Christmas” because Christ is finally doing in our culture and earthly kingdom what He did the first time: exposed the politics of religion and its reliance on earthly alliances and power, and our trust in the chariots and horses of economics and the imaginary stability of our temporal kingdoms for the purpose of preserving our lifestyles. But alas, indeed, in another sense it is no longer “Christmas”, it is Christlessmas because in the political killing of gifts to innocent children we have followed in the footsteps of those religio-political leaders who killed God’s gift to humanity… or at least have tried to.
Herod, the Elders and Pilate… where are they and their economies and kingdoms now in spite of their political machinations, policies and rationalizations to save their status and nations?
Yes boys and girls, Santa is checking his list to see who is naughty and nice. And apparently his list is now the Census. (Hmmm… didn’t someone else take a census when Jesus was born?)
May we find His truth in this Advent season, not in ACLU lawsuits, Christian websites identifying “Christmas approved retailers”, email spam about Christmas trees, Kwanza and even apologetics about the baptism of the solstice, but by being called in the simplicity of our daily work by angels’ voices to come and adore Him who was born rejected, a stranger to His people, outside the city, away from the shops, the palaces and yes, even the churches.
Blessed Nativity to all.