EDITORIAL: Immigrants, refugees, the poor and the birth of Jesus

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A Christmas manger on Manger Square near the Church of the Nativity in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, on Dec. 21, 2017. / Thomas Coex/AFP/Getty Images

We have nothing new to say about the story of Christmas but, with respect, neither does anybody else.

It has all been said before, eloquently, in every Christmas season, and that’s precisely the point.

The enduring power of the Christmas story, of the birth of Jesus, is in its eternal verities, in its ability to remind us every time of the values we hold closest, of what kind of people we aspire to be.

EDITORIAL

When we say Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus were like refugees or immigrants or homeless people, turned away from the inn, we know people have said that for centuries. Which makes it no less relevant today.

We think of the impoverished people who slip over the border from Mexico, illegally and unwelcomed. We think of the Muslim refugees who land at O’Hare Airport. We think of the homeless men and women who sleep in tents below Lake Shore Drive.

They really are a hassle. Let’s face it. How can our nation continue to absorb millions of new immigrants? How do we make sure an ISIS terrorist doesn’t slip in alongside a Syrian farmer? How do we care for all those people, often mentally ill or drug-addicted, living on the street?

Honest questions.

But the story of Christmas says they are knocking at the door of the inn, like Mary and Joseph, and if our hearts go out to the Christ child, our hearts must go out to them. No getting around it. We can’t just build a wall. We can’t just ban every refugee, with no distinctions made, from six predominantly Muslim countries.

The Christmas story reminds us to demand more of ourselves.

When we say the three wise men symbolize the foreigners among us, the mysterious strangers, we know that’s been said for 2,000 years. Which makes it no less a lesson for our times.

We are reminded not to be hostile toward those who are different, but to be tolerant, even accepting. Some day that baby in the manger will grow up to be a man and he will preach a sermon on a mount. He will say to treat others as we would have them treat us.

We have nothing new to say about the Christmas story, but we look forward to saying the old stuff over and over again. It never becomes a cliche. It is fresh every time. It helps us rediscover our moral bearings.

There are no secrets in the Christmas story, including the fact that none of this is easy. The central stories and teachings of all the great religions never make it easy for us, which is why their meanings are so readily twisted. It’s tough to turn the other cheek, you know?

The Christmas story is swaddled in values that are hard to live up to. We know it in our own lives, and we have seen it time and again in the last year.

It’s about caring for the poor, because the rich can take care of themselves. Along those lines, we believe the new federal tax code, approved by Congress six days before Christmas, moves in exactly the opposite direction.

It’s about making room for everybody. We believe President Trump’s decision to move the American embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, over the objections of the Palestinians and all Arab countries, works against that ideal. An intractable conflict just became more intractable.

It’s about religious tolerance. Hence the offensiveness of that Muslim travel ban.

It’s about humility. A quality gone out of fashion.

It’s about family, writ large.

And it’s about peace.

We have nothing new to say about the story of Christmas, about the birth of Jesus.

We just wish that everybody, beginning with ourselves, did a far better job of keeping its spirit all year long.

Send letters to: letters@suntimes.com.

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