It seems that, around this time every year, we hear about the new and latest salvo in the “War on Christmas.” In 2013, non-white depictions of Santa emerged in the crosshairs. In 2015 the offense was an all-red Starbucks cup. This year did not disappoint: Starbucks has returned to the center of attention, this time for “promoting the gay agenda,” on their holiday cups. The sad truth, however, is this: There’s a real war on Christmas raging, but it sure as hell doesn’t have anything to do with Starbucks’ coffee cups.
In the biblical Christmas account, we read a story about a poor family. Mary and Joseph are forced to migrate far from their home to register for the unjust and exploitative taxes the Roman Empire levied upon the region. Lacking shelter, Mary is forced to give birth in a stable. Then, fearing for the life of their child, the family is forced to flee as refugees into Egypt. And yet, despite ostensibly celebrating a holiday centered around poor folks and refugees, a predominately Christian Congress and White House is taking action that would devastatingly harm Mary, Joseph & Jesus’ modern-day analogues.
The real “War on Christmas” looks like revoking the DACA program, throwing 800,000 lives into chaos. These children, in many cases, were brought into this country by parents seeking to protect them, just as Mary and Joseph sought to protect Jesus. The “War on Christmas” looks like shutting our nation’s doors to refugees fleeing war and violence. And — like the exploitative Roman economics of old — we see the war on Christmas in efforts to raise taxes on the 45 million Americans who live in poverty to marginally increase the excesses of the wealthiest.
In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus promises that we will be judged by how we treat the poorest and most vulnerable among us. When we shut out immigrants and refugees, we exclude Christ. When we pass laws that harm the poor, we oppress Christ. If we care at all about Christmas, we are called to combat this injustice. And, unlike the trivial “War on Christmas” that so often occupies media attention, this “War on Christmas” matters: Its outcome will be measured in lives.
This is the conflict that God cares about. When children, migrants, and poor folk are dying, God couldn’t give a damn about our coffee cups.
Ben Perry is the Assistant Director of Communication and Marketing at Union Theological Seminary in New York City and a member of the Bedford Presbyterian Church.