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Merry Christmas: The Message From The Manger

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Merry Christmas: The Message From The Manger


Celebrating the birth of Jesus of Nazareth is a custom familiar to everyone raised in Western cultures, whether or not they happen to share the Christian faith. So important is Christmas to Americans that even the traditional holiday greeting is misused as a partisan weapon — seized by a political figure no less profane, irreligious, and insincere than Donald Trump, who proclaims he will restore its meaning.

Complaining peevishly of a mythical “war on Christmas,” the president-elect evidently believes the holiday’s most compelling aspect is the right to impose its observance on others who may not share his professed piety. In a country founded on freedom from religious coercion of any kind, Trump repeatedly promised to “assault” the domestic enemies of Christendom, which in the minds of Trump’s followers include Barack Obama and his family.  Never mind that on December 1, the president lit the National Christmas Tree in a ceremony aimed at unifying the country, regardless of faith or ethnicity, with musical stars singing carols and the first lady reading The Night Before Christmas.

For a politician who cannot correctly identify any portion of his favorite book, the Bible, such ferocious displays of piety reveal how little thought Trump has ever devoted to the real message of the Christmas story — which remains essential in a world where children, refugees, and the poor seem destined for ever greater suffering.

It is a story, not a history. The versions of the Nativity set forth in Scripture by Luke and Matthew differ in salient respects, but that should not matter to anyone who understands the difference between religious allegory and literal truth. Both those with faith and those without can find truth in the allegory, regardless of the narrative details.

Christmas tells us of a child born to a carpenter and his wife, impoverished working people living in ancient Judea, ruled by a distant dictatorial regime and its sanctioned local agents — the ruling elite of their era. Joseph and Mary were undeniably homeless and, according to one version of the story, they were refugees from political oppression, forced to migrate to another land. Rejected by society, the little family was driven into a manger — the equivalent of a cardboard shelter today — where Jesus was born in a cradle of straw amid the animals.

It is a story that we can imagine transpiring in our own time, among the Central American migrants, homeless in a California border town, or among the Syrian refugees, freezing and hungry in northern Greece. The analogy is clearly lost on politicians like Trump, who not only assure us that we need not concern ourselves with their fate, but that we must coldly spurn small children for the sake of our own comfort and safety. Almost in the same breath, these cynical hypocrites proclaim their eternal allegiance to Jesus.

The story is not a political or ideological discourse, but a parable of light delivered to a world of pain and darkness, on a date that happens to mark the winter solstice. Its infant prophet is a harbinger of universal love, an unequivocal embrace of the sinners, the impious, the unclean, the rejected, the foreigner, the stranger, the ill, and the poor. What does that story mean to leaders who spend their days deciding how to give the hungry less food, give the sick less medical care, and give the elderly less security, all for the sake of laying up still greater riches for those who are already too wealthy?

It is a story whose message pastors and theologians, not least among them Pope Francis, have reiterated every year in this season: that the spirit of God arrived on earth not clothed in power and glory, but embodied in a weak, tiny, and defenseless baby who endures cold, poverty, and rejection.

The face of that child is the face of every innocent child deprived of comfort and joy.  If only our culture warriors would declare a truce, stop angrily shouting “Merry Christmas!”  — and listen to what that child is trying to tell us.

IMAGE: Migrant children wait for the arrival of Father Christmas, with presents, at a gathering arranged by a local relief organization at a refugee camp in Hanau, Germany.

Joe Conason

A highly experienced journalist, author and editor, Joe Conason is the editor-in-chief of The National Memo, founded in July 2011. He was formerly the executive editor of the New York Observer, where he wrote a popular political column for many years. His columns are distributed by Creators Syndicate and his reporting and writing have appeared in many publications around the world, including the New York Times, the Washington Post, The New Yorker, The New Republic, The Nation, and Harpers.

Since November 2006, he has served as editor of The Investigative Fund, a nonprofit journalism center, where he has assigned and edited dozens of award-winning articles and broadcasts. He is also the author of two New York Times bestselling books, The Hunting of the President (St. Martins Press, 2000) and Big Lies: The Right-Wing Propaganda Machine and How It Distorts the Truth (St. Martins Press, 2003).

Currently he is working on a new book about former President Bill Clinton's life and work since leaving the White House in 2001. He is a frequent guest on radio and television, including MSNBC's Morning Joe, and lives in New York City with his wife and two children.

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  1. Dominick December 24, 2016

    Merry Christmas!

  2. tbs December 24, 2016

    And the point of this article, besides putting Christmas and Trump down, is what???
    Anyone can critzise but to really know the truth, without bending it, would be very difficult for a liberal to understand!

    1. Chloe Jones December 24, 2016

      Untrue. Liberals understand just as much, if not more, as conservatives the reason for this season and beyond. Extend a helping hand, feed, clothe and protect the less fortunate and demonstrate a sense of love for all. These are the gifts those who are in privileged positions should give to those who have so little–just as the wise men did for the poor family in the stable. Blessings abound!

    2. leonardo311 December 24, 2016

      Repeat the paragraph below, each time you pray, or preach the benefits of the Trump presidency and Republican majorities in Congress.

      “What does that story mean to leaders who spend their days deciding how to give the hungry less food, give the sick less medical care, and give the elderly less security, all for the sake of laying up still greater riches for those who are already too wealthy?”

      To your Question, it wasn’t about putting Christmas down, it was about those that use Christmas in a perverse way and distort the message of Jesus, and to act in total contradiction to Jesus’ teachings.

    3. Ronald Hester December 24, 2016

      wow, how did you twist this up so badly? What book you reading out of? No wonder we are so screwed, with people with this kind of critical thinking, I’m at lose for words, tbs, regarding your comment!

  3. rednekokie December 24, 2016

    Sadly, for the most part, this is the story of humanity. Hope always springs forth in the most unexpected, and at times, the most illogical fashion. Actually, fashion has very little to do with hope for it quickly goes out of style, while hope springs eternal.
    And, as long as our “leaders” deny even the smallest of us the very basics of life — food, shelter, medical care, and, yes, love, then we shall repeat the same thing – over and over, year after year, just as we have done from our beginning.

    1. dbtheonly December 24, 2016

      Do you recall what Jesus said about “doing to the least of these”?

      Wishing all here who celebrate Christmas a safe and restful holiday.

      To answer tbs, Trump has spent his life pursuing wealth. He uses that wealth as ostentatiously as I can imagine. Knowing what Jesus told the young rich man who approached Him; what do you think Jesus would say to Trump?

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      2. dpaano January 19, 2017

        I don’t think I could repeat what he would say if he were here now and standing in front of Trump!!

        1. dbtheonly January 19, 2017

          Trump has made his choices. I am grateful that he doesn’t add the sanctimony to it. Newt Gingrich and his shirtsleeve Christianity annoy me. Or as an old song puts it, “(he) knows all the words and (he) sings all the notes; but he never quite learned the song.”

  4. plc97477 December 24, 2016

    Maybe the “christians” should remember the eye of the camel. So far all they have done is try to rationalize the size of said eye.

    1. leonardo311 December 24, 2016

      Don’t you mean the “Camel and the eye of the needle”?

      1. plc97477 December 24, 2016

        You are right. That is what happens when I go off before I have had my coffee.

    2. idamag December 24, 2016

      Any day now, they will start rewriting those parts of the Bible that doesn’t agree with money-money-money. The Bible also says one cannot worship God and money. It also says a person cannot have two masters. If they were asked to choose between God and their political party they would choose party. Oh, they have already done that.

  5. leonardo311 December 24, 2016

    The statement / question posed in the article to our leaders, also should apply to those that describe themselves as “Conservative Christians”:

    “What does that story mean to leaders who spend their days deciding how to give the hungry less food, give the sick less medical care, and give the elderly less security, all for the sake of laying up still greater riches for those who are already too wealthy?”

    Nothing better describe the oxymoron that the term Christian Conservative really is, now for the rest of us I guess we repeat what Jesus said some thirty years later, as he was being nailed to the cross:

    “Forgive them father for the know not what they do”

    1. 788eddie December 24, 2016

      I’m sorry, but I’ve always maintained that the term “conservative Christian” is actually an oxymoron.

      The values that were espoused by our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ are liberal values; like, forgiveness and caring for others.

      1. leonardo311 December 24, 2016

        I agree with you, I too have “always” thought Christian Conservative was an oxymoron, but the cited (and copied) paragraph from the article is probably the best and most easily understood example of WHY Christian Conservative is an OxyMORON.

        The only thing I would have changed was the “already too wealthy” to read “already have more money than they can spend in a hundred life times.”

  6. stsintl December 24, 2016

    According to a UN report, two years ago, 65 richest families in the world had as much wealth as the 3.5 billion people in the lower half of the economic scale. Now, only 62 richest families have that much wealth. So, the inequality between “Haves” and “Have-nots” seems to be getting worse.
    The President-elect has given his “Conservative Christian” supporters a gift of “Nuclear Arms Proliferation” to celebrate the birth of “Prince of Peace”. May God bless America in spite of what DJT has in his twitters.

    1. idamag December 24, 2016

      The so-called Bible belt elected Trump. It shows that Christian values are subject to change or elimination.

      1. dpaano January 19, 2017

        What Christian values…..they lost those values long, long ago when they sold their souls to the rightwing tea party GOP’s!

        1. idamag January 21, 2017

          Their history isn’t too shiny. Sold their souls describes it well.

  7. idamag December 24, 2016

    This is how the spirit of Christmas is with those who would like to turn this country into a theocracy: A few years ago, WalMart started saying Happy Holidays so that Christmas and Hanuka would be equally honored. A few Methodists, I know, had a thing going asking people to boycott WalMart. I thought if they were that obnoxious during the Roman times, no wonder the Romans threw them to the lions.

    1. dpaano January 19, 2017

      If I were one of those lions, I would chew them up and spit them out!

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  9. Thoughtopsy December 25, 2016

    Republicans: “We hate poor people, women and minorities. Just like Jesus did.”

    1. dpaano January 19, 2017

      They’ve got a very warped picture of what the Bible actually says, trust me on that one! They interpret it to mean whatever they want it to mean and to heck with the REAL meaning!

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