President Donald Trump repeatedly promises, “We’re going to say ‘Merry Christmas’ again.” At a rally in Utah last week, he proclaimed, “Christmas is back, bigger and better than ever before.” But Trump’s obsessive focus on the holiday’s size, glitzy trimmings, and grandeur make one thing abundantly clear: He doesn’t believe in Christmas.
If this claim seems counterintuitive, it’s only because American Christians have allowed a deplorable gap to grow between the biblical nativity and the way in which many of us celebrate Christ’s birth. So let’s return to the story of a poor family forced to give birth to our savior among livestock — a family who later became refugees, for fear of violence.
Christmas is, first and foremost, a subversive story about the radical inversion of power. Christ doesn’t enter the world as hero; he was born among those the Roman Empire oppressed and despised. The incarnation is God’s promise that the “last shall be first,” made real in flesh.
That’s the reason Herod, Rome’s provincial lackey, attempts to kill Jesus: The child threatens the unjust power structure upon which Herod sits. Herod does what any petty despot would — he tries to get rid of the threat to his throne. He lashes out in fury and anger. He “counterpunches.”
Trump clearly understands Herod. But he doesn’t seem to get what Jesus is all about. And, after all, why should he? A man pathologically dedicated to “winning” cannot understand why God would choose to enter the world as a “loser.” Someone who conflates wealth with moral authority is unlikely to grasp why God is born into an impoverished body. When one adorns every surface of one’s home in gold, it’s hard to grasp the meaning of the manger.
And it’s a shame, too, because the darker side of Trump’s disbelief in Christmas is increasingly harrowing. His disdain for Jesus, Mary, and Joseph’s contemporary analogues is increasingly clear.
As millions fled the ravages of war, our president shut down the refugee resettlement program. Since reopening it, he has admitted 83 percent fewer refugees compared to last year. And it’s not for lack of need. A true “war on Christmas” is unfolding all around us, in policies that oppress people of color, poor people, immigrants, and refugees.
Donald Trump has shown himself uniquely ill-disposed to understand the meaning of Christmas.
You cannot worship a refugee savior and disregard refugee lives.
You cannot embrace an immigrant God and reject 800,000 DACA recipients in an act of impulsive cruelty.
You cannot celebrate the Lord’s birth into poverty and create a tax plan that gives to the rich and steals from the poor.
You just can’t. Jesus says it best: “No one can serve two masters.”
President Trump’s Christmas is a spiteful imitation. It revels in commercial excess and gaudy lights, while beneath its shiny façade lurks an ideology of blight and corruption. His Christmas is the very inverse message from the prophet who was anointed to proclaim good news to the poor.
What good is saying “Merry Christmas” with one breath when you curse Christ with the next?
It’s time for Christians to show President Trump what Christmas really looks like. Let’s accept Trump’s challenge to “bring back Christmas” — let’s live into God’s love that unites the poor, welcomes the stranger, and frees the oppressed. Let us repent, and kneel before the manger to embrace a poor and refugee Christ. Let us get up and work for a world that will not condemn and crucify him.