Gillian Fitch, one of our Fitzroy creatives came up with a Refugee Nativity. No room at the Inn is marginalised enough but the refugee image makes a powerful visual statement as Syrian refugees risk their lives for a new life in Europe and Afghanistan refugees might soon join us too.
Jesus of course was a refugee as a baby so Gillian's image is a blending of two early stories in Jesus life. It reminded me immediately of Josh Ritter's song Gospel Of Mary.
Ritter takes the traditional Biblical story of Jesus, Mary and Josephescaping as refugees into Egypt and gives it a modern slant. Another family of three is escaping, seeking safety.
It would seem obvious that Ritter, an American writing to a predominantly American audience, would be setting their story among those seeking refuge in America but it fits with our own strivers for a new life too..
This little family sets out with hope of something better:
We prayed our prayers, we broke our bread
With others who had even less
Till finally all we had were dreams
And we hoped that they would fill us
Soon however the sinister world of the modern refugee kicks in. Duped for a place in a container, Joseph dies, eventually Mary is put in chains and in the end she and her son are separated.
Ritter’s song is clearly in the tradition of the American protest singer. It is asking serious questions of a government that is continually going against the idea of America, particularly when it comes to immigration. Those words on the Statue of Liberty seem so sadly neglected:
"Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
Eventually Ritter brings it all around to the original Mary, Joseph and baby. The ancient texts of Scripture are full of migrants. From Genesis to Revelation the entire Bible is about people moving countries. So it is with Jesus. As Ritter sings:
The holy family got away
A simpler time, a simpler place
And Egypt stretched out it's great hand
To welcome them with mercy
Egypt is set up as a more merciful place than present day America. Is that a judgement itself? Even if that isn’t intended and just suggests that other generations and peoples were more welcoming than America, judgement is coming.
Ritter doesn’t hit the wall and miss with his closing verses. There are echoes of Bob Dylan’s Masters Of War:
And you who stood at your great gates
Watched us as we met our fate
Then took our pride and stole our babes
You will one day die of something
Then the last lines of damnation:
May the pain within you dwell
And may it follow you to hell
All alone in a lonely cell
It is early 60’s Dylan at his best, his folk singing ghost haunting us with the power of truth at the dawning of the third decade of the their millennium.
The developed world is so fantastically wealthy that we cannot dare let those who have nothing eat into our entitled decadence. The baby in that original manger is speaking out of the nativity’s prophetic poetry - we cannot serve God and money. What we do to the least of these who do for God.
Josh Ritter has gifted us a song that is deep in the truth of the Gospel nativity. It is not a warm and sentimental take but one of reality that gets the point!