Keeping the Christ in Christmas, or something

In what will go down as “The Great Starbucks Cup Controversy of 2015,” a video posted on Facebook that went viral with millions of viewers, it was a man attacking Starbucks for its decision to remove holiday symbols from their cups.

Joining the video in its attack, Republican presidential nominee and reality TV star, Donald Trump was quick to rally a crowd of thousands,

“Did you read about Starbucks? No more Merry Christmas on Starbucks…maybe we should boycott Starbucks!”

Oddly enough the Starbucks Logo itself is a longhaired 16th century pagan mermaid, but she was never mentioned.

As the War on Christmas heated up, the “politically correct” armed forces of Starbucks fired back, “Creating a culture of belonging, inclusion and diversity is one of the core values of Starbucks, and each year during the holidays the company aims to bring customers an experience that inspires the spirit of the season…”

The myth that we progressive minded liberals hate on Christmas because of our intended inclusion of diversities only dates back to the 1920’s. Then it was used to wage war on the Jewish peoples who were somehow thought to be undermining Western civilization. “Jews have since been replaced by Muslims, feminists, black people, and gays as the hated people supposedly stealing the country. The narrative has stayed the same.”[1] The fear and exclusion of others remains. So in honor of red Starbucks cups everywhere and in attempts to “Keep the Christ in Christmas” let’s look to the Bible for some answers…

The joyous scandal of Jesus’ birth begins in Matthew’s Gospel with a long list of heretical relatives: Tamar, Rahab, and Bathsheba, all caught in sexual scandal. Jesus’ family tree is chalk full of deviant sinners used by the grace of God for the good of the people.

A few paragraphs later Mary sings in celebration of Jesus’ birth with the Magnificat. Her words,

God casts the mighty from their thrones

and raises the lowly.

God fills the starving with good things,

sends the rich away empty.

And when on the run from Herod as refugees, Mary aches in pain as she births baby Jesus into the pile of hay farm animals have been foraging.

Evangelical Scholar, Rev. Thomas Wright, reminds us that Luke’s inclusion of this census (though most agree it didn’t happen exactly as he describes) isn’t mere background information. Rather, these censuses were hot topics in the first century Middle East. Census like these raised the sharp and dangerous questions of who runs the world, who profits by it all, and who gets crushed in the process.

As Jesus grows up it does not seem to get much better. His hometown of Nazareth was a poor city of brick and mud. Remember back to the Gospel of John, “What good comes from Nazareth?” And with little need for a carpenter beyond basic framing and doors, Jesus and other day laborers would make the hike into Sepphoris to ply their trade.

Sepphoris was the capital city of Galilee, a sophisticated urban metropolis, with wide stone streets and two-story homes lining the way, with large lavish baths and public latrines, with palatial mansions and a Roman theater, Sepphoris was a hub of culture and commerce.[2]

Biblical scholar Reza Azlan writes, “Six days a week, sun up to sun down, Jesus would have toiled in the royal city, building palatial houses for the Jewish aristocracy during the day, returning to this crumbling mud-brick home at night. He would have witnessed for himself the rapidly expanding divide between the absurdly rich and the indebted poor.”

And finally, in today’s Gospel story Jesus’ family looses track of him as he goes off to teach in the Temple. Interestingly the story reads that Jesus “grew in wisdom and stature.” As the image of the invisible God, interpreters have taken this to mean that God “grows in wisdom and stature,” saying the Divine changes and moves with the unraveling universe. In Process Theology we say, God is not just the passive participant in the life of the cosmos, but found amidst the relational dynamism of the whole universe. God is the most moved mover, the lure toward complexity, evolution, growth, and creative transformation, the call of the Christ Child for an embodied Christ Community.

The more and more we put the Christ in Christmas the more radical the story becomes. Not to mention, I have even begun to mention Jesus’ adult ministry. In just the first few pages our Gospel stories witness to the glory of God in Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior, and this glory is found amongst the people the Bible refers to as: the poor, the blind, the lame, the crippled, the lepers, the hungry, the miserable, sinners, prostitutes, tax collectors, demon possessed, the persecuted, the downtrodden, the captives, all who labor and are overburdened, the rabble who know nothing of the law, the crowds, the little ones, the least, the last, and the lost sheep of the house of Israel.[3] The message of Christmas is that God is not found in a Superman but in all humans, all of us, you and I, each and every one of us. God is no longer in the Temple, in the hands of religious elites, God is bursting into the world through everyone and everything our world despises: Muslims, Refugees, Trans* people, the working poor, and elderly.

In keeping the Christ is Christmas we see that Luke has placed his story of Jesus’ birth within this everyday story of Imperial power because he wants us to know that Jesus’ birth is not an invitation to a private religion into which we can escape and feel cozy. But Jesus calls us into a life of dissent from power and into the margins to embody peace and justice for all. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of Mary and Joseph and Jesus the Christ Child, the God of Paul, St. James and St. Augustine, John Calvin, Martin Luther, Thomas Paine, and Dorothy Day, the God of us in this new day now summons us to sign on under his Lordship, to celebrate the birth of the Wonderful Counselor, the Everlasting Christ, the Prince of Peace, and to work under that Lordship for the growth of God’s promised Kingdom of endless peace, justice, and righteousness!


[2] Reza Azlan, Zealot, 38.

[3] Albert Nolan, Jesus, 21.

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