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Luke 2:1-14 (15-20)

I was recently introduced to a cartoon from 2014  by cartoonist, illustrator and graphic novelist Everett Patterson called “José y Maria.”[1] It is a depiction in modern realistic style of what Joseph and Mary might look like if they lived in America today. I’ve heard lots of people talk and preach and muse about the fact that Joseph and Mary were the equivalent of modern refugees, and use that parallel to generate compassion for current refugees and other societal outcasts–Jesus was one of them, after all. But until I saw it illustrated, it never really hit home for me.

The cartoon depicts Joseph and Mary as a young Hispanic couple (hence the title “José y Maria”). They are in front of a convenience store, and the scene is covered with advertisements containing cheeky biblical Easter eggs (“Smoke Weisman Cigarettes”; “Shepherd Watches”). The neon sign of “Dave’s City Motel” in the near distance says “No Vacancy.” José is standing at a payphone, holding a phone book, pulling a coin out of his pocket–likely calling around to find accommodation for the night. Maria is by his side, cleverly seated on one of those mechanical horses for children. She looks quite young, exhausted, and very pregnant. Her hoodie proclaims she attended (or still attends?) Nazareth High School. Both are dressed in modern street clothing. They look like any contemporary young couple from the lowest socioeconomic rung. In other words, they look like someone you might very well see in your everyday travels to the grocery store, on the street, or while driving down the road. This cartoon reminds us that Joseph and Mary were real people, living in a real time and place, dealing with the typical difficulties of living in poverty.

It’s easy for us to deify Joseph and Mary so much that they cease to have any relevance to the world we live in, and Jesus’ birth narrative becomes little more than a fairy tale we teach our children. But when we closely read the narrative in Luke 2:1-15, aided by a little knowledge of 1st century Palestinian culture, we see that the situation surrounding Jesus’ birth was anything but a bedtime story.

First of all, I’m struck by the fact that this whole narrative kicks off with a census (v. 1),[2] because it’s such a mundane detail. In the late summer and Fall of this year I had the unique experience of working for the 2020 US Census as an “enumerator”–the government-speak title for the person who goe