Christmas is a wonderful blend of earthly merry-making and theological mystery. Much of its symbolism– the red and green Christmas colors, holly, Christmas trees, mistletoe, wreaths– has no obvious connection to the mystery of the Incarnation, of God, the immeasurable Power that sustains the stars, becoming not only human, but a tiny, helpless baby, nursing at the breast of a human mother. Much that has taken on a Christmas meaning, e.g., songs like “Jingle Bells” or “Winter Wonderland,” merely celebrate winter.
On the other hand, many traditional Christmas carols sublimely express the most arcane points of Christian theology. In “Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” we learn that “Christ,” who is “by highest heav’n adored” and “the everlasting Lord” has “late in time”– think of the long and violent history of mankind, aching with dreams and disillusionments– “come [as the] offspring of a Virgin’s womb.” Then the very heart of the Christian mystery: “Veiled in flesh the Godhead see / Hail the incarnate Deity / Pleased as man with man to dwell.” God became man. Why? “Born that man no more may die / Born to raise the sons of earth / Born to give them second birth.” By being perfect man, Christ redeemed human nature, and made us able– if we accept the gift– to return to the presence of God, which our inmost hearts have always desired. “Light and life to all He brings / Risen with healing in His wings.” I suppose few that sing this Christmas carol take notice of its theological depths. Yet even as a child, I felt that “real” Christmas carols like Hark the Herald Angels Sing expressed the essence of Christmas, while the fun of “Jingle Bells” was a mere guest under its solemn roof.
When the angels sang “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will to men!” (Luke 2:14) they foreshadowed the global spread of Christianity. Gospel means “good news,” the good news that the angels sang to the shepherds that night, and that still rings through the world every Christmas day, news of triumph and mercy and reconciliation to gladden every heart. One of the bearers of that news was St. Paul, and I thought it appropriate to this holy day to quote the words with which he reminded early Christian believers in the city of Ephesus in Asia Minor of the gift that had been given them:
Remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done in the body by human hands)— remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.
Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.
Now, statements that Christ’s “purpose was to create… one new humanity out of two,” to “put to death… hostility” and to make all people “no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of His household,” could be taken out of context and treated as direct endorsements of open borders. But critics might object that St. Paul is not here endorsing any particular political order, but the citizenship he is speaking of is citizenship in the Kingdom of Heaven, which, as Jesus told Pilate, “is not of this world” (John 18:36). And that’s true enough.
But now, for comparison, recall that Jesus began His ministry (Luke 4:18) by reading in the synagogue the Old Testament prophecy, “The Spirit of the LORD is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” And then He told the crowd, “”The Scripture you’ve just heard has been fulfilled this very day!” Yet though the phrases “the captives will be released” and “the oppressed will be set free,” might seem to call for an immediate abolition of slavery, Jesus in His earthly ministry did not address the institution of slavery at all, and the apostles St. Peter and St. Paul even seemed to endorse it. The apostles wrote a good deal about liberty, but they meant was freedom from inner demons, from sin and man’s fallen nature; in legal and political liberty, they seemed to have little interest. Nonetheless, in due course, under the impulse of the spirit of Jesus Christ, slavery was abolished throughout the world. The higher, spiritual meaning of “setting the captives free” was that man should be free from bondage to sin; but that man should be free from bondage to human masters, though less important, was also intended and eventually achieved.
Doesn’t the same apply to open borders? Surely it’s clear that even if, when St. Paul told the Gentiles they were “no longer strangers and foreigners” but “fellow citizens with God’s people,” he primarily had a spiritual meaning in mind, that strangers and foreigners to the Christian faith should be welcomed in as fellow citizens, it’s nonetheless entirely appropriate, desirable, and even perhaps necessary that when Christians create transient earthly polities for the sake of secular expediency, they ought to welcome strangers and foreigners in and make them fellow citizens? Can anyone whose spirit accepts and rejoices in St. Paul’s words really doubt that a world of open borders would do more honor to them, and be more faithful to the intentions that they express, than a world in which most of mankind is physically shut out from dwelling among us by the accident of their place of birth?
And if we who were once strangers and foreigners desire to be admitted to the Kingdom of Heaven as fellow citizens, ought we not to show to our less fortunate fellow men the far lesser mercy of admitting them to our own more happily-situated countries? Do we really deserve to be welcomed into God’s kingdom if we ferociously exclude the stranger and the foreigner from our own little polities?