THE AVENUE DECEMBER 28, 2009
It's appropriate at Christmas time to think back to the origin of the holiday: the birth of Jesus Christ. Most people know this story: Jesus was born to Mary & Joseph in Bethlehem, in a stable because there was no other place for them to stay. While Biblical scholars believe it was probably not actually a stable, but rather a ground-floor room of a house where Jesus was born, the fact remains that Joseph and Mary were visitors from out of town who needed lodging. What made them travel 70 plus miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem when Mary was pregnant? A census.
The Roman emperor Caesar Augustus had ordered a census of the entire Roman world, which meant that all those living under his rule had to travel back to their ancestral home to be registered. Since Joseph’s family was from Bethlehem, that’s where he and Mary went, and Jesus happened to be born while they were there. Unlike the ancient Roman census, ours counts people where they presently reside. The results are used to determine not only political representation but also the distribution of billions of federal dollars to states and localities.
This poster –distributed to 7,000 churches – was created by the National Association of Latino Elected Officials (NALEO) to remind people of the census’s role in the Christmas story. It says, “This is how Jesus was born. Joseph and Mary participated in the Census. Participate in the census in March 2010. Don’t be afraid.” Groups such as NALEO are helping spread the word about the importance of getting a full count, especially among minorities and other groups who are historically more likely to be missed. The poster has been translated into English, Vietnamese, Korean, Chinese, and Creole.
While some Christians find the poster offensive or inappropriate, others see it as a reasonable means of encouraging people – especially Latinos -- to participate in the census. The underlying message is: if the census was important enough for the holy family to travel that far, with Mary pregnant, and to stay in less-than-ideal conditions, it’s important for you – and just be glad that all you have to do is fill out a form and mail it in. In other words, What Would Jesus Do? He would fill out his census form.