Here is the message in question:
“Merry Christmas to all! Over two millennia ago, a new hope was born into the world, a Savior who would offer the promise of salvation to all mankind. Just as the three wise men did on that night, this Christmas heralds a time to celebrate the good news of a new King. We hope Americans celebrating Christmas today will enjoy a day of festivities and a renewed closeness with family and friends.
Certainly– written into a church bulletin in 2014, this message would raise no eyebrows. Written by the Republican Party in 2016, people accused the authors of drawing a comparison between Donald Trump and Jesus Christ.
“Just as the three wise men did on that night, this Christmas heralds a time to celebrate the good news of a new King.”
A few thoughts about the message itself and the theology of Christmas in the political context.
First, there are a million ways you could have written that third sentence without causing controversy:
- You could have capitalized “Good News,” like Christian references to the Gospel usually do.
- You could have capitalized “New King,” like a full reference to Christ often would.
- You could have written about “Christmas” or “Christmas time” instead of using the article this Christmas, which signals something particular to this year.
- You could have re-worded the entire sentence to make it not sound like you might be talking about the newly elected president.
- You could have left out that sentence altogether. What is it’s purpose? To clarify that we’re celebrating like the wise men did? To say something about the Kingdom of God?
Maybe it was an innocent message. Perhaps sloppy writing caused the confusion. Maybe some liberals really don’t know that Jesus is sometimes referred to as a King, and overreacted.
That sentence as written, however, is slyly ambiguous. If it was meant to be provocative, it succeeded. Liberals called out the so-called “defenders of Christmas” for sacrilege. Christian conservatives could play holier-than-thou and mock liberals for their religious ignorance.
In light of the controversy, let’s take a step back and ponder the Christmas story.
Jesus was born without a home. He was either an immigrant or a refugee, depending on how you want to define his situation. In real life he was probably brown-skinned. The birth narratives in the Bible emphasize these humble beginnings to contrast the opulence and earthly power of an actual king. Jesus’ Kingdom was one of unconditional love and humility. Where the first shall be last, the last shall be first, and the meek inherit the Earth.
King Herod was known as a builder. He spent lavishly on ambitious projects. He built fortresses and harbors all over Judea, and even refurbished the Jewish temple in Jerusalem. He had several wives and lovers. He was paranoid and protective of his ego and his throne, which is why the wise men had to lie to him to visit Jesus. Herod had heard about the “newborn king” and was trying to kill him.
The scriptural analogies speak for themselves.
Hark! The herald angels sing: At least we are saying “Merry Christmas” again, thanks to the Donald and his lackeys.