By Becky Garrison
Wonder what Jesus thinks of those family values Republicans who push to keep Christ in Christmas but yet pull moves like giving tax breaks to the rich and refusing to give health benefits to 9/11 first responders? Now, I don’t claim to have the mind of Christ. But I can easily imagine heaven resembling a Monty Pythonesque sketch right about now. As these faith fights spin out of control, Jesus pleads with a Terry Gilliam depiction of the Almighty, “Dad, I can’t believe you sent me down to earth so I could die for this!”
Some days, the jokes seem to write themselves. But I fail to find the humor in touting American exceptionalism as though the United States represents this City on a Hill, an exemplar of Christian virtue by those who turn in a political performance that would make the Grinch green with envy.
I can’t think of a more inappropriate present to give the baby Jesus than to bag the Beatitudes (Matthew 5-7) during the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. Just who do these Republicans think Jesus is referring to when he talks about “the least of these?” With over 3,000 references to poverty in the bible, it’s pretty clear that Jesus’ priorities lay with the poor. Without a doubt, he would turn the tables on a family-friendly agenda that advances a form of biblical capitalism where those in power evoke the name of Jesus as though the will of Christ is in synch with their own ambitions.
Furthermore, what’s Christlike about abandoning those very first responders who pulled a John 15:13 by laying down their lives so that others may live? I would like to echo Jon Stewart’s plea that effective immediately, Republicans are banned from using 9/11 as a political tool. Let’s declare a moratorium on draping the cross with the American flag as though this faux patriotism bears any resemblance to the actual teachings of Christ. Heck, not even Ebeneezer Scrooge would praise 9/11 heroes to the heavens only to then kick them to the poorhouse by refusing to cover their medical costs for illnesses they occurred in the line of duty. Where are the Three Wise Men when we need their counsel now more than ever?
Speaking of the nativity story, have those fighting to keep Christ in Christmas ever contemplated how the Lord and Savior might have commemorated his birth? Well, for starters historians aren’t exactly sure of the exact date Jesus of Nazareth was born, though one could safely assume shepherds probably wouldn’t be out tending sheep on a cold winter night in Judea.
Also, despite depictions of Christmas trees and festive decorations in contemporary churches, such artifacts would not have been on display in the house of Joseph. As blogger Cathryn Thomas reminded me, “Like any good Jew, Jesus would have celebrated Hanukkah.”
Along those lines, the rituals that have come to symbolize Christmas have pagan roots like the feast of the Son of Isis (Goddess of Nature), which was celebrated by the Babylonians on December 25th and the Winter Solstice festivities in ancient Rome and Europe. In fact, Christmas didn’t become an official church holiday until 350 CE when Pope Julius I decreed that Christ’s birth should be celebrated on this day, a move designed to make conversion a bit easier for the pagan Romans, who represented the majority of the population.
So in the holiday spirit, can we call a truce to these Christmas wars once and for all? Perhaps the best gift Christians could give in this increasingly pluralistic society would be a pledge to follow the teachings attributed to St. Francis, “Preach the gospel at all times. And if necessary, use words.” What might happen if followers of Christ became known by their deeds and not their screeds?
Becky Garrison’s books include Jesus Died for This?: A Satirist’s Search for the Risen Christ.