Christmas evolved into an abomination. Born as a church celebration of the incarnation, Christmas lives in adolescent convolution and ambiguity. Confusion and anger about the holiday occur easily in the culture where we live. I write not to express anger. How easy it
would be for me to unleash an incisive tirade against the sickness we see during the holiday shopping season! Instead, what I bring this year is neither words of comfort nor words of fury. Rather, I cry words of mourning upon this page. I mourn for us who follow Jesus, but I mourn even more for those who do not. For all who refuse Jesus, please forgive me. It is for you that I offer this lamentable confession.
In The Gospel According to Matthew 2.16-18, upon hearing from Zoroastrian-observing royalty that news of “the child who has been born king of the Jews” came to them through the stars, Herod, in a wrathful fit of violent spontaneity, sent soldiers to massacre infant, male children all throughout Bethlehem and the surrounding region. For those of us who know this story from our youth, we dismiss it out of sheer redundancy of hearing. Anyone reading it for the first time or anyone reflecting on it with serious depth will invariably be confronted with the immense horror of the event. Matthew responds in an almost unexpected fashion: the book quotes a prophetic oracle of mourning. Verse 19 continues, “When Herod died…” An infanticidal massacre merits nothing more than tears. Herod receives no punishment. His actions speak for themselves. They are reprehensible.
Let me take apart the story briefly. Herod, a puppet ruler over Palestine, represents the collusion of the indigenous people of the region and the imperialist powers. Christians root themselves in that indigenous group. We derive from them. Colluding with the imperial powers of our day turns us into King Herod! The truth thrusts itself into our vision time and time again during the advent season. Millions of people in the U.S. race to buy, decorate, and consume on Christmas day, yet they do not celebrate Jesus. The entire country expresses some form of observance. My Buddhist boss buys gifts, and even atheists join the holiday! They do it because the Herods who claim allegiance to Jesus and allegiance to the empire force it upon them.
In the story, when the Persian elite arrived in Jerusalem with gifts, knocking on Herod’s door, it appeared to Herod that they came for him. When they left without leaving their gifts and returned home without providing Herod an assassination target, Herod saw their disinterest in his authority. He lashed out to protect that authority. The result looked absolutely horrific. Many innocent folks suffered for the offense taken by the king who served two masters. How many people in this country have become victims of the Christians who serve two masters, G-d and country?
Those infants represent all the people who get caught by the coercive might of this country’s Herods. We, with our actions and our fervor for consumption, force them to celebrate a holiday that means little to them. They feel inadequate and abused. In the malls, they shop in order to satisfy the deep-seeded need for community, love, and acceptance, yet the gifts they buy only bring them isolation, despair, and homogeneity as the puppet kings demand they buy in order to maintain the puppet power all in the name of the baby who escaped the massacre leveled by those very people in power.
Christians come up with many clever ways to circumvent this problem. They donate money to charities; they give various alternative gifts; they volunteer at soup kitchens on Christmas; and they do many other excellent things. What they do not do is mourn. We fail to confess our sins to those who erect Christmas trees without believing in Christ. We cannot imagine the end of Christmas. That is because we are the ones killing it with our Herodian coalition with the powers that be. What should be our response to Christmas? How should we act in light of this now destructive holiday? We should mourn in lamentation for the people we subjected to our system of belief. To all of you, I am deeply sorry. Please forgive me for the times I joined in the infanticide. You are innocent, and you do not deserve to be the victims of those who follow G-d and empire. For you, I offer this:
A voice was heard in Ramah,
wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be consoled, because
they are no more.
And I offer this promise: from out of this mourning, I promise to find new ways of celebrating the birth of Jesus that do not coerce you to join. Peace!