Tag Archives: Christmas

The Politics of Christmas (republished from December 2015)

20150712_210956_resized-1Have you ever noticed how federal, state and local governing bodies close their offices and go on vacation during the Christmas holiday season? The United States Congress will take a “recess” for about 10 days, from about December 21st through December 31st. (My third grade recesses never lasted that long. How about yours?)   The law-makers will leave Washington, return to their respective home states and celebrate the season with their families and friends. Executive agencies, (that is, those who carry out the laws, rules, regulations, programs, policies and procedures that have been put into place by the law-makers) will close their doors for just two or three days. All of the political work will come to a screeching halt, the problems of government will give way to a collective hush so that we may quiet down for the holidays and put differences aside, all in the name of peace on earth and good will toward men (and women, too!).

But why does the government shut down, especially in light of the fact that when the doors open back up, it will be back to business as usual? The same fight that was being fought before the doors closed will be resumed when the doors open. The same burden that was oppressive before the doors closed will be oppressive when the doors reopen. The same people who were on top when the doors closed with a sign saying, “Gone For The Holidays” will still be on top when the sign is flipped back over to say, “Open For Business.” And the same people who were on the bottom, waiting in line, will still be on the bottom, waiting in line. I don’t know about the rest of the world but in the United States, we have de-politicized Christmas by allowing government to fade into the background for a few days. The truth, however, is that as the shepherds were keeping watch over their flocks on that starry, chilly evening in Bethlehem, politics was thick in the air the night that Christ was born.

In order to under the politics of Christmas, we need to understand a little about the history of the Jews ( the people of Israel) being under foreign rulers. (I promise to keep it painless and simple).

*The Jews had been ruled over by the Babylonians, Assyrians, Persians and Greeks. After the Exodus from Egypt (led by Moses), Israel had been allowed to return to their homeland but they were still ruled by foreign governments. Jesus (who was a Jew) was born during the time the people of Israel were under the Roman ruler, Caesar Augustus.

Statue of Caesar Augustus
Statue of Caesar Augustus

*Now for a little lesson on Caesar Augustus. Augustus was originally named Octavian and was the adopted son of Julius Caesar. After Julius Caesar’s death, Julius was divinized, or elevated to the status of ‘god’. Octavian, Julius’ son, was considered “the son of god” and his name was changed to Augustus, which means “worthy of worship”. Augustus became the object of worship throughout the Roman Empire. He was believed to have been sent by God as a Savior for the people; his birthday was adopted as the new beginning of the year; and his birth was viewed as the beginning of a new era of ‘good news’ (evangelion) and peace (peace, which was by military force) for the whole world.

The Forum of Augustus
The Forum of Augustus

*Caesar Augustus funded his Roman Empire by making the people pay taxes. There were grain taxes, produce taxes, sales taxes, temple taxes, occupational taxes, custom taxes, transit taxes, and many others. Three percent of the elite, like the Roman Senate, along with the Roman soldiers and the citizens of Rome didn’t feel the sting but the people of Israel were part of the 97% of people who were in poverty as a result of the heavy taxation. Caesar Augustus needed to know how many people were in the Roman Empire, in order to make sure the taxes were accurate.

Map of Roman Empire during rule of Caesar Augustus
Map of Roman Empire during rule of Caesar Augustus

*So, “In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world.” (Luke 2:1) These were the politics that surrounded Jesus’s birth. Roman officials had declared that Caesar Augustus was the ‘son of god’, the ‘savior’ of the whole earth by bringing ‘peace’ to Rome, and that declaration was heralded as ‘good news.’  This is the same message that the angel gave the shepherds concerning Jesus: a savior is born, he is the Christ or God’s Anointed One and he will bring peace on earth. The difference, however, is that where Caesar Augustus ruled with an iron fist and oppression, Jesus, born in a lowly manger, to an unmarried virgin girl and a working-class carpenter, would establish his Lordship and rule through humility and compassion.  Caesar Augustus was viewed as a cheap imitation, a fake!  But Jesus was the savior on whom the children of Israel and all who were oppressed had been waiting. The gospel writer, Luke, challenges the Roman practices of his day by telling us the story of a baby who was born into a highly charged social and political climate.

Politics is hard work and everyone needs a break. But if Jesus’s birth was seated in the middle of a major political situation, why do our governments shut down and divorce themselves from the true backstory of the Christmas season? Today, in the United States (and perhaps in other countries) governing bodies shut down to take a break from politics. When Caesar Augustus ruled the Roman Empire, politics was the name of the game and the game was in full play the night that Christ was born. But Jesus was not born so that governments could take a brief break from politics or to give people a short recess from oppression and pain. Jesus was born to completely change the political game.

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*Source: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/thepangeablog/articles/unpublished-papers/behind-lukes-gospel-the-roman-empire-during-the-time-of-jesus/#_ftn30

No written portion of any article may be shared without giving credit to the authors.

Copyright © 2015 by Kanisha L. Adkins.

P.O. Box 28483 Henrico, VA 23228 – phone 202-854-1963 – email: info@kanishaladkins.com

Follow me on twitter @kanishaladkins

 

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DO WE WANT SYMBOLS OR DO WE WANT A SAVIOR?

20150712_210956_resized-1In late October 2015, Starbucks rolled out its annual “holiday” cup…a vibrant red cup to hold all of the short, tall, grande and venti hot beverages our hearts desire, our pockets can afford and our bellies can hold. Who would have thought a simple red cup would set off such a fire storm? But that’s exactly what happened when former television and radio evangelist, Joshua Feuerstein of Arizona, criticized Starbucks for removing “Christmas from their cups because they hate Jesus.” Feuerstein’s complaint is that there is no design on the cup to indicate that it is a “Christmas” cup AND that the lack of a “Christmas” design means that the Starbuck’s corporation hates Jesus.  A Starbuck’s spokesperson responded to Feuerstein’s complaint, saying that Starbucks tries “to create a culture of belonging, inclusion and diversity” and that the blank red cup “is to allow and encourage customers to tell their Christmas stories in their own way.”

It’s interesting that Feuerstein and those who support his cause object to a blank red cup as a sign of hatred of Jesus. But when it comes to the images Starbucks has used over the last several years on its cups during this season, not a peep was heard from Feuerstein and his supporters, alleging that those symbols were signs that Starbucks hated Jesus.

In 2014, Starbucks’ cups were all red but they used different shades of red to illustrate snowflakes and trees. In 2013, the cups were red and gold with a hint of white and included Christmas tree ornaments, snowflakes and stars. In 2012, “a winking snowman” was Starbucks’ choice for its holiday cup. In 2011, characters playing winter sports graced the cups. In 2010, the cups had characters singing carols with messages written on them, like “stories are gifts.” In 2009, the images on the cups were Christmas tree ornaments that contained messages like, “I wish every day was a holiday.” And in 2008, snowflakes and turtledoves decorated the cups.

Starbucks 2015 Holiday Cup
Starbucks 2015 Holiday Cup

Joshua Feuerstein and his supporters, object to a blank red cup as being “anti-Jesus” but no one said a mumbling word about snowmen, ornamented trees, caroling and snowflakes! What do snowflakes and winking snowmen have to do with Jesus?! What do any of the symbols that have come to be associated with this season have to do with Jesus?! Not a blessed thing!!

So how did these symbols become intertwined and mixed in with the birth of Jesus? Well, the story goes something like this:

*Roman pagans introduced the holiday of Saturnalia to the Christian church. Saturnalia, an ancient Roman festival in honor of the Roman god Saturn, was a week long period of lawlessness and depravity celebrated from December 17th through 25th. During this time the poorest and most despised citizens were forced to give gifts to the emperor. The story goes on to say that in the 4th century, leaders in the church succeeded in converting to Christianity large numbers of these Roman pagans by promising them that they could continue to celebrate Saturnalia as Christians. There was nothing about Saturnalia that was even remotely related to Christianity before the church designated the end of the festival, December 25th, as the birth of Jesus. The “pagan” Christians were allowed to continue their pagan practices and partying and giving gifts to one another was incorporated into the celebration of Jesus’s birth.

The Christmas tree became a part of the celebration of Jesus’ birth when the church was trying to recruit and convert pagans from the Asheira cult. The Ahseira cult worshiped trees in the forest and also brought them into their homes for worship. In order to persuade the Asheira cult to become part of the church, they were allowed to continue worshiping trees.*

Christians are supposed to be celebrating the birth of the Savior of the world. But instead, too many of us have forgotten about Jesus and instead, we have chosen to focus on a season of symbols… ornamented trees, decorated snowmen, colorful, flashing lights and gifts to everyone except the “birthday boy” – Jesus. None of these symbols has any connection to Jesus or his birth.

Do we need to get rid of these symbols? I think the answer is a personal one. Like many people, I love the colors of red, green, and gold during this season. I think it’s pretty! I enjoy the “old school” music of the season, like the Temptations’ “Give Love On Christmas Day”, The Jackson Five’s “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” and Karen Carpenter’s “Merry Christmas Darling”.  Putting up a tree and decorations have not been a priority for me in recent years but that has more to do with the task of taking them down and putting them away. The “little ones” in my family have grown up and we are waiting for the next generation of children. So exchanging gifts is not a big priority for us. But that doesn’t mean we don’t do it.Christmas tree

Like most people and most Christians, I do a lot of symbolic things during this season out of habit. But now that I know the origins of many of these symbols, I am not sure that I can or want to continue to use them. As much as I enjoy receiving and giving gifts, I have to remind myself that this is the time of year that the Christian church has adopted to recognize the birth of the Savior.  I have to remind myself that Jesus is the reason for the season.

Could it be that Starbucks is pointing us, (Christians, that is,) in the right direction, by getting rid of the symbols of this season with a simple red cup? Could it be that removing the symbols from the cup serves as a reminder to Christians to get personally and intimately involved in the “holiness” of this day that we are supposed to be celebrating? What would our celebration look like if we didn’t have the symbols of this season to distract us from the Savior of the Season?

The symbols of this season – snowmen, decorations, lights and jingle bells — make us smile for a moment. But after the season is over and the symbols have been put in the attic, many people are drained — mind, body, soul and pocketbook. Thirty-something years after his birth, Jesus reminded his disciples and through the biblical text he reminds us today, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10, New International Version).

Do we want empty pockets or a full life? Do we want social gatherings or meaningful relationships? One last question, for Feuerstein and all of us– Do we want symbols or do we want a Savior?

 

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*Multiple internet sources were used for information on the origins of Christmas symbols.

No written portion of any article may be shared without giving credit to the author.

Copyright © 2015 by Kanisha L. Adkins.

P.O. Box 28483 Henrico, VA 23228 – phone 202-854-1963 – email: info@kanishaladkins.com

Follow me on twitter @kanishaladkins

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