We are not saved by satire, but the way God has saved us satirizes the world’s method of salvation.

Is there anything like a celebrity roast going on when the shepherds hear the angels’ announcement in Bethlehem or when a group of women discovers an empty tomb outside Jerusalem? Can a little bit of Jonathan Swift and Mad magazine be found in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John? Is there anything like satire in the gospel story?

These questions come to mind as I once again approach the familiar gospel stories. In the midst of poring over the now well-worn details, I have heard something new: It is the sound of a barely muffled, mocking laughter, and its source is somewhere above the heavenlies. Could it be that the not-ready-for-prime-time players of “Saturday Night Live” fame have merely adopted a style that is actually as old as the stars—namely, satire?

For satire to be effective, it must take on something or someone really big and strong. Thus the targets of sarcasm and ridicule include presidents and corporations, mass movements and social dogmas—not refugees and the dying. It is the celebrities who are to be roasted.

Satire works by redefining the object of scorn; and, if successful, the object of redefinition never quite gets back to where it was before. For example, when Lyndon Johnson said, “Gerald Ford is so dumb he can’t walk and chew gum at the same time,” he redefined him. There was nothing Ford could say in rebuttal. If he were to say, “Oh, yes I can,” he would simply have looked as silly as Johnson had claimed.

Columnist Ellen Goodman described a conversation she overheard in an expensive restaurant. There were hanging plants everywhere, and the restaurant served only health food. Its wealthy patrons were dressed in overpriced ...

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