Be sure to follow the news over the holiday, our professor told us as we headed out the door. It was 2002, and I was a freshman journalism student in Washington, DC.
Because this is when the powers-that-be do their worst. When no one is paying attention, he practically had to shout over us to be heard as we clamored out the door. And low and behold, between Christmas and New Year that year, Israeli courts brought down ruling further isolating Gaza, US military forces started a skirmish in Pakistan, and a multitude of other things happened. Of course, I didn’t learn about this until later. I didn’t look at the news once while I was home on break. I just needed a vacation.
Almost twenty years later, Christmas comes with “Get Out of Jail” free cards for power brokers, and for politicians. And this year, the lame duck president also has pardoned murderers – the four security guards from Blackwater who opened fire on unarmed Iraqi civilians. They killed 14 people, including a 9-year-old boy.
Beyond an egregious reversal of civil justice, experts say that the harm from this unprecedented pardon could serious ramifications. Iraqi’s have been told, again, that their lives do not matter; at least not as much as the lives of Americans. And security officers and soldiers have just been told the same thing, as well. How can this not corrupt the moral center of individuals? How can this not be a perverse assurance that the people at the top of the US Government will support the actions – however abusive – of the military and security personnel under then?
But, wait, there’s more! Soon after Thanksgiving, the Department of Justice (which, in case you forgot, is largely influenced by the president) revised regulations in order to expand the permissible methods used in federal executions. Which means that in the Year of Our Lord 2020, on Christmas Eve, it has once again become legal to execute people by firing squad and electrocution. But this is not really about the method, but about the madness. In the past, “botched” executions (ie ones that were seen as exceptional inhumane because of prolonged pain and suffering) have made it made it more difficult for states to procure the lethal substances. So, ostensibly, these new regulations undo a loop hole that kept people alive.
Some dismiss the impact of these new regulations, like the worst of some of the pardons, because the assuption is that come January 20th, the new administration may be able to do some of these 11th hour actions. But before Trump leaves office, his Department of Justice intends to execute five people: Four black men, one of whom committed murder more than 20 years ago when he was only 18, and a white woman, whose grotesque crime suggests that she is deeply mentally ill. Unless Joe Biden is Jesus, he won’t be raise these people from the dead.
It is, perhaps, too long-hanging of fruit to allude to King Herod. To imagine how such a puppet might preen his own ego by pardoning those who murdered women and children, while blithely celebrating the grisly murder of a select few of his second-class citizens. It is the Feast of the Holy Innocents and Good Friday all at once. So instead, I will name that this is the War on Christmas, because it is a slap in the face to the Incarnation. Because Jesus, now Risen, doesn’t need us to defend an excessive, consumeristic celebration of his birthday. Instead, he calls for us to care for those who are least among us, to defend his justice for all who have been forgotten by the world, and to resist those who desecrate the sanctity of human life. Where are the Christian leaders now who were so offended by the words “Happy Holidays”?
It’s only a hypothetical question. Perhaps some are outraged. I don’t know. I don’t answer for them. I answer only for myself. And so this holiday season, I will try to remember that, in taking on human form, God said, This gift of life is precious. And in being born how and who he was, Jesus said, There are no second-class citizens in the Kingdom of Heaven. And at the very least, unlike 20 years ago, I will try to live as though it is Christmas.