When I woke up on Christmas morning I checked my email (some habits are hard to break) and noticed that the Washington Post had sent out their usual “Wednesday Headlines” newsletter. Since it would be a little while before everyone was awake and ready to open presents, I clicked on it and began scanning the day’s offerings. Almost immediately I noticed that the editorial board had published a piece called “The True Meaning of Christmas.”
I suppose the fact that I immediately experienced a brief feeling of dread speaks to my inherently cynical nature, or perhaps just too much experience with this publication. But then I succumbed to a moment of optimism. Why not give it a look? Perhaps the editors had set aside their partisan rancor for just one day. Maybe they decided to deliver an enlightening message of hope, exhortations to do good, charitable works or simply wish everyone some joy on this special day. Or perhaps just a celebration of the day, such as the one Ed wrote last night. I clicked on the link.
So much for optimism. It turns out that the true meaning of Christmas is that the Bad Orange Man is still Bad and we shouldn’t let a little thing like the celebration of the birth of the Savior get in the way of remembering that.
Most people in the time of Mary and Joseph had little idea of what country they were in, or even of such things as countries. They went where they had to in order to survive and got by as best they could. Yet, out of this particular family, came a figure who gave new hope and moral guidance to much of the world.
So, with Christmas approaching, the president, or one of the elves in the darker reaches of his workshop, came up with a plan to cut the number of refugees admitted to the United States to a record low of 18,000. This despite the fact that most refugees have been thoroughly vetted and offer considerable promise to society. A number of communities welcome them and set them on the path to productive citizenship. This latest needless and probably self-destructive action, like many the president has taken, is the reality behind the mirthless jollity of his “Merry Christmas.”
This entire theme of Mary and Joseph being refugees has become popular among those on the left who are unhappy with the President’s immigration policies. And in at least some sense, it’s not an unfair description. Of course, the Mother of Jesus and her betrothed doubtless had more on their minds with Herod the Great on the prowl (not to mention the Romans) than filling out visa forms.
Such analogies, crafted for the purpose of partisan bickering, almost always fall short. It’s true that the people living in Europe and the Middle East two thousand years ago probably had less of a concept of “countries” than we do today. (Well… some of them, anyway.) But countries generally weren’t as rigidly defined. Borders tended to be a bit fuzzy unless they ran along a river or a coastline. And even then, borders were frequently ignored if you had enough horses and troops at your disposal.
What we did have back then, and in all likelihood for our entire existence as a species, was a sense of tribe. We are tribal creatures by nature and have been through all of recorded history. We band together because those who choose to go it alone don’t last long for the most part. And those tribes weren’t dependent upon skin color or anything else. (European history is chock full of white people going to war with or enslaving other white people. The same is true across races and continents.) And so it was when Jesus was born. The world was constantly in conflict.
But you know all of this already, and that’s not really the point. The new year is approaching and that’s widely taken as an opportunity for fresh beginnings and the hope that we might do better. So here’s a Christmas wish for the Washington Post editorial board. Do better next year. The fact that you couldn’t set aside your partisan hatred of the President for one single day – on Christmas, for goodness sake – could be a reminder that perhaps 365 days from now you could trade in the sword for the pen and be positive, hopeful and, dare I say… helpful. Merry Christmas, WaPo editors. Try to find some joy today.