The biblical story of Christ’s birth is replete with surveillance.
Mary and Joseph make their way to Bethlehem to fulfil the requirements of a census (no mere counting exercise but one riven with political dimensions).
Shepherds are keeping surveillance over their flocks by night (protecting as well as tallying up each morning).
Joseph is all too-conscious of peer surveillance in Nazareth that would cause Mary shame were he to divorce her quietly.
If we stretch the boundaries of the nativity narratives then the Holy Family have to flee to Egypt because King Herod has been keeping the visiting Magi under surveillance and it about to instigate the slaughter of male infants. This programme of infanticide would have relied on rudimentary – but no less brutal – surveillance of the area.
Beneath the surface of the story lies God’s careful surveillance of this vulnerable family and we can perhaps posit the angelic host as, amongst other roles, God’s surveillance agents.
Watchtowers, a wall, CCTV systems, ‘border’ controls and more opaque technologies of surveillance are today targeting the town of Bethlehem. Surveillance is the lesser-told tale of the first and the latest Christmas.