My title is from Malcolm Guite’s powerful poem “Refugee.” I was reminded of it after the death of a child on Christmas Day in the custody of U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

So much for protection. This is the second child to die in a detention center in recent weeks.

It is scandalous and heartbreaking and criminal and infuriating and utterly avoidable. Yet we can hardly tear ourselves away from our carefully-curated-for-consumption-on-social-media Christmas celebrations to be purposefully outraged. I indict myself in this.

Guite’s poem reflects on the Feast of the Holy Innocents, observed each year in the Western Church on the fourth day of Christmas.

Sometimes referred to as the “slaughter” or “massacre” of innocents, it commemorates a subplot of the nativity story recounted in St. Matthew’s gospel: a petulant, paranoid ruler feels threatened by a child born to refugee parents and, with his ego and power unchecked, puts policies in place that ensure the death of young children across the region.

Whilst Herod rages still from his dark tower
Christ clings to Mary, fingers tightly curled,
The lambs are slaughtered by the men of power,
And death squads spread their curse across the world.

Because Christianity has long been domesticated in the American context, with sentimental versions of the stories associated with Christmas the quintessential proof of this, it is almost impossible to take in the raw, radical edges of the gospels’ infancy narratives and their explosive import for the social, economic, and political norms of the day–and for ours.

And so here we are at Christmas in 2018, caught up in cradles and creches and soft candlelight, unable to see that refugee Jesus

is with a million displaced people
On the long road of weariness and want.

And unwilling to reckon with a petulant, paranoid ruler who feels threatened by children born to refugee parents and who, with his ego and power unchecked, puts policies in place that ensure the death of young children.


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