Jamie Smith has a mildly clever take on President Trump’s comments about Christmas greetings. To Trump’s remark that we will be saying Merry Christmas again without embarrassment, Smith reminds the POTUS that the holiday is political in ways not intended:
The biblical account of the birth of Jesus Christ is drenched in political significance. His genealogy in the Gospel of Matthew makes Him royalty, the heir of King David. The titles Savior and Messiah, which we imagine are merely religious, carry political connotations of deliverance and liberation. When his mother hymns her Magnificat, she praises a Savior who “has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.” (Luke 1:51-52).
None of this was lost on Herod, ruler of Judea at the time of Jesus’ birth. Herod the Great — Herod the infrastructure king, the tyrant who was the biggest, best, greatest ruler — knew that Christmas meant a rival was in town. When he caught wind that people were paying homage to a “king of the Jews,” he summoned priests and teachers for intel. They reminded him that the prophet Micah had promised that a ruler would emerge from Bethlehem. So Herod unleashed the heinous solution we know as the slaughter of the innocents, which was (he thought) a surefire way to eliminate any pretenders to his throne.
So yes, Christmas is political.
With that opening, Smith turns Christmas on a president who is easy to kick:
Christmas is not a political device that politicians can employ at rallies for their benefit. If they truly believe in the import of this event, they should be humbled and realize that their rule stands under the judgment of a coming King.
So Merry Christmas, Mr. President! You’re fired. There will be an exit interview at the Last Judgment.
I wonder though what Smith thought of President Obama’s politicization of Christmas. Here is one version of his Christmas greetings from 2015:
Today, like millions of Americans and Christians around the world, our family celebrates the birth of Jesus and the values He lived in his own life. Treating one another with love and compassion. Caring for those on society’s margins: the sick and the hungry, the poor and the persecuted, the stranger in need of shelter – or simply an act of kindness.That’s the spirit that binds us together – not just as Christians, but as Americans of all faiths. It’s what the holidays are about: coming together as one American family to celebrate our blessings and the values we hold dear.
During this season, we also honor all who defend those values in our country’s uniform. Every day, the brave men and women of our military serve to keep us safe – and so do their families.
Who could possibly be against that? Except that President Obama did not exactly capture the exclusive nature of Christianity such as when Jesus said: “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matt 10:34)? Of course, this is not a call for Christian terrorism. But even removing some of Christ’s hyperbole, President Obama’s conversion of Christianity into a warm and cuddly message like ones we heard from Mr. Rogers is not exactly doing justice to Christ’s reign as Smith construes it.
So I wonder why the critics of Trump were silent about the civil religion of Obama — its own form of politicizing a holiday. President Obama was, by almost every measure, a much more honorable man than Mr. Trump. But when you take Christianity seriously, you might want to warn the former POTUS that he’s playing with fire. The coming of Jesus brings a “you’re fired” to progressive Democrats as much as repugnant Republicans. But sometimes the politics of Christianity only go one way. By firing only one POTUS and not the other, you come off as a former and perhaps jilted “court evangelical.”
By the way, Reformed Protestants have a solution to all of this. We don’t follow the liturgical calendar (but do enjoy the secular character of the holiday).