Opinion: Christmas history: Was Jesus a day laborer?

A Syrian man decorates the Saint Mary Church of the Holy Belt with a Christmas Nativity scene in the bombed-out city of Homs on Sunday.
(Youssef Karwashan / AFP/Getty Images)

Good morning. I’m Paul Thornton, and it is Saturday, Dec. 23. It’s two days before Christmas, and one of California’s most destructive wildfires ever continues to burn in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties. Let’s take a look back at the week in Opinion.

Jesus Christ was not born rich — this much, just about every Christian knows. But the importance of Jesus’ poverty as a laborer in the backwater town of Nazareth to the story of Christianity, writes Jesuit priest James Martin in a Los Angeles Times opinion piece, is often glossed over without an examination of its deeper meaning. Modern references to Jesus’ profession as a “carpenter” abound, Martin notes, but the Greek term used to describe his work — “tekton” — betrays a more hardscrabble existence, something more akin to a day laborer or a handyman.

It’s enough to make you wonder if today’s ruling politicians would have branded the savior many of them worship as a “loser.” (That’s me wondering, not the author.) Martin writes:

God could have entered the world in any place or family that God chose. God could have become human in a great ruling family in Judea. God could have entered into humanity in a wealthy Galilean family, perhaps as the child of a well-traveled and well-read merchant or scholar. More to the point, God could have chosen to be born into the Roman dynasty, in line to become emperor, to exercise and demonstrate maximum power.

Instead, God chose to enter a family headed by a man with a simple profession, married to a woman who, from outward appearances, was no different than the other poor women in their joke of a town.

Is it any surprise, then, that Jesus felt such intense compassion for the poor and marginalized? That he constantly asked his disciples to care for the poor, the sick, the forgotten, the stranger? He was one of these throwaway people, and he lived among them for 30 years before his public ministry began. Christians tend to see Jesus’ commands to care for the poor as divine. And they were — Jesus was fully divine. But they also came from his human experience. He was fully human as well. I’m always amazed by people who feel they can be Christian without caring for the poor. Not only did Jesus command us to do this, Jesus himself was from this class. When God chose to join us, he joined us in Nazareth, to make sure that we wouldn’t forget.

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“Merry Christmas” wasn’t always an expression of holiday piety. In fact it was quite the opposite, notes Neil J. Young. Centuries ago, when Christian leaders snuffed out the often drunken, celebratory solstice revelry by appropriating Dec. 25 for their own use, saying “merry Christmas” was an act of cheerful defiance. “What the church could not contain, capitalism co-opted,” Young writes, and thus, we have the “war on Christmas” we hear about today. L.A. Times

Your Social Security “increase” is a fraud. Freelance journalist Les Gapay rails about the insignificant raise he received as a Social Security beneficiary being swallowed up immediately by a boost in Medicare rates. Plus, there’s the increased cost of rent, gas, even Campbell’s soup he must contend with, and counting on members of Congress who “have at least one foot in hell already” to do something about it won’t do much good. L.A. Times

Because you asked: Yes, some Californians have a fire evacuation plan for their art. The latest fires in Southern California happened to strike areas with vibrant art scenes, including Ojai and other affluent parts of Santa Barbara and Ventura counties. Vanity Fair

It bears repeating: Let Robert Mueller do his job. President Trump and his team of lawyers have given troubling signs of their impatience with the special counsel investigation, and there’s been talk of the president possibly abusing his pardoning power to undermine Mueller’s efforts. There’s also Trump’s “Amen Corner” at Fox News, where conspiracy theorizing on Mueller, the FBI and other perceived villains has hit a fever pitch lately. “It’s incumbent on responsible Republicans in Congress to make it clear to the president that if he menaces Mueller, he does so at his own peril,” writes The Times Editorial Board. L.A. Times

Does Venezuela prove once and for all that socialism doesn’t work? Columnist Jonah Goldberg thinks so, and he believes the portion of American liberals growing increasingly comfortable with socialism ought to take heed from the disaster unfolding in that South American country. L.A. Times