Christmas Reflection: “Oh, Come Let Us Ignore Him”

Every year at this time, the entire Christian world of more than 2.5 billion people pauses to observe the birth of a martyred Jewish construction worker about 2000 years ago. In America, we tirelessly observe this winter festival with increasing intensity from about Halloween, through Thanksgiving, and the entire month of December – for two solid months.

All during that time, our radio airwaves, and every shop we enter repeat the familiar songs and hymns we’ve come to associate with Christmas. Many of the carols celebrate “the newborn king.” Some even issue the invitation, “Oh, come let us adore him” – as God. Only occasionally (as in the “Little Drummer Boy”) is there the slightest hint that Jesus was “a poor boy too.” But that insight is quickly obscured by that same song’s four references to Jesus as “king.”

However, Jesus’ unmistakable poverty, his conception out of wedlock, his homelessness at birth, his status as asylum-seeker and immigrant in Egypt (MT 2:13-18), his social location in the working class, his association with Zealot insurrectionists (MT 10:4; MK 3:18; LK 6:15; ACTS 1:13), and the fact that he ended up a victim of torture and capital punishment at the hands of empire reveal far more about Yeshua than those popular sentimental Christmas jungles and hymns about a “newborn king.”

But even if we take those latter glorifications seriously, they unwittingly communicate a revolutionary message that the Christmas season completely ignores – one that finds important application to our troubled times.

I’m referring to the fact that calling the impoverished Yeshua “king” turns upside down reigning conceptions about the One some call “God,” and about the people divinely designated to rule the world.

Such references unconsciously point to the truth of Jesus’ words that the “meek” or (better put), the lowly, the humble, the unpretentious, those without public power, the despised and discarded, the gentle and non-violent, are (in God’s eyes) the ones divinely destined to “have the earth for their possession” (Psalm 37: 11; Matthew 5:5). History belongs to them. Despite appearances, it is on their side.

What else can it mean that we call “king” a brown or black homeless child born in a barn and who will remain poor, deep in political trouble all his life and will finish on death row? What else can it mean that such a one was selected to be (according to Christian faith) the ultimate revelation of life’s meaning.

On this Christmas Day 2021, all such considerations should send us to look for God in today’s people and places Yeshua was so deeply a part of. Christmas reflections on the historical Yeshua should find him living in those tents that now dot all our big cities. He’s sleeping under some bridge in DC or NYC. He’s dodging drive-by bullets on Chicago’s South Side and shivering in the cold on the Tijuana border. He’s walking his last mile after his appeal for a stay of execution has been ignored by Trump’s SCOTUS packed with “pro-life” Catholics. His appeal is ignored by governors opening gifts with their lily-white children and filling their bellies with turkey and all the trimmings, after singing “Silent Night” with misty eyes in their heretical megachurch based on prosperity gospel lies.

In the face of all that, the proper hymn to sing is “Oh, come let us ignore him.” Yes, ignore that white supremacist, Jesus. And instead, let us adore the real Yeshua in that filthy, stinking barn. He’s there sharing a roof with the rats and beasts with whom our police forces equate those whose neighborhoods and barrios their militarized platoons occupy as enemy terrain.

If we were to find Yeshua in those unlikely places, how different our interminable Christmas season would be. Yes, suppose Americans (and the world’s other two billion Christians) spent two months each year giving serious reflection to Jesus’ social circumstances as presented in the biblical texts that scholars call “the infancy narratives.”

Doing so would change “the season” to one of national repentance, instead of the orgy of “Christmas shopping” for those who already have more than they need. We’d double down on support for Rev. Barber’s Poor People’s Campaign. We’d organize to spend the season (any beyond) doing everything possible to eliminate the specific elements that plagued the life of Yeshua — namely:

  • Identification of “God” with scepters, armies, priests, and “power over”
  • Royalty of all kinds
  • Poverty
  • Homelessness
  • Persecution of asylum seekers
  • And immigrants
  • Imperialism in all its expressions
  • Honoring imperial military service as though it were heroic (It’s not!)
  • Infanticide (today by drone instead of sword)
  • Wars invariably waged against the world’s poor
  • Torture of those same impoverished souls
  • Capital punishment of the poor [never (please note) the rich]
  • Etc.

In other words, historical reflection would cause us to embrace the one whose life and rejection by organized religion and the imperial state reveal the true social location of divine incarnation.

As for the Jesus of our hymns, carols, and Christmas jingles, “Oh (please!), come let us ignore him.”

P.S. We might replace the ignored one’s hymns with Woody Guthrie’s “Jesus Christ:”

Jeff Sessions as Mullah: His Christianist Version of Sharia Law

immigrant mothers

Last Wednesday and Thursday were the most theological days I can remember.

It all revolved around the Trump administration’s practice of separating children from their immigrant parents, including tearing nursing infants from the breasts of their mothers and the attendant prospect of “baby jails.”

To begin with, the Roman Catholic Bishops’ Conference condemned such policy as clearly immoral.

Even evangelical Trump supporter, Franklin Graham, called the Trump policy “disgraceful.”

In response, Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, offered his best imitation of the Islamic theocrats his type loves to vilify. Instead of invoking U.S. law, the Constitution, or legal and historical precedent, the nation’s leading law enforcement agent decided to justify Trump policy theologically. He claimed that the apostle Paul would endorse it, since the program comes from government, which Sessions declared enjoys ipso facto divine authority.

Sharia Law, anyone?

More specifically, the AG referenced Romans 13. He said, “I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13 to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained them for the purpose of order.”

The next day, Mr. Trump’s press secretary, Sarah Sanders followed suit averring that “It is very biblical to enforce the law.”

Such theological debate invites refutation.

The first response is that Paul obviously could not have meant that all government legislation reflects the will of God. That would mean not only that the U.S. slave system was divinely approved, but that the decrees of Genghis Kahn, Hitler, and Stalin enjoyed divine approbation.

Even closer to home, the Sessions interpretation of Romans 13 would mean that Jesus himself, Paul, and all the great Christian martyrs – not to mention religiously-motivated champions of civil disobedience like Martin King and Mohandas Gandhi – were all condemned by God.

On the contrary, all of them (including Gandhi), drew inspiration from the example of biblical prophets who made a point of disobeying laws which routinely claimed divine origin.

In fact, Jesus’ defense for breaking the most inviolable law of his time, the Sabbath Law, was that law’s very purpose was to serve human beings. Laws contradicting such humanitarian purpose, he implied, have no authority at all.

So, what, then, did Paul intend by his words, “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God”?

Try this:
• Authority means the power or right to give orders, make decisions, and enforce obedience.
• All such power comes from God and God’s law.
• Government legislation reflecting God’s law must be obeyed.
• Obviously, all other laws must be disobeyed.
• According to Jesus’ teachings, God’s law is to treat others as you would like to be treated with special care for the poor, widows, orphans, and immigrants.

In the end, the great Dr. William Barber II, the dynamic animator of the contemporary Poor People’s Campaign gave the best response to the self-serving absurdity and hypocrisy of Mullah Sessions’ invocation of the Judeo-Christian tradition. Barber called their interpretations “heresy” and said:

“First of all, (they’re) misinterpreting that text. Paul actually was arrested by the government, because Christians challenged the government. That’s one of the reasons Paul ends up getting killed. . . Second of all, the Bible is clear, from the Old Testament to the New Testament, that one of God’s primary concerns is that we care for the stranger, that we do not rob children of their rights, and mothers of their children, that we welcome the stranger and make sure that the stranger, the immigrant, the undocumented person, is treated like a brother or sister. You cannot find anywhere where Jesus or the prophets would say anything like what Sessions said.”

Today it’s immigrants. One wonders about the next victims of Sessions’ Christian counterpart of Sharia Law. Beware!