Politics at Christmas

It may be that we want to avoid politics this Christmas, and that would be understandable. After all, it seems that the country (and the church) is more divided that it has ever been, and many of our closest relationships may be threatened by the current politics of fear. When thinking about the current political situation, I find myself reflecting on a conversation between Frodo and Gandalf in Lord of the Rings.

"I wish it need not have happened in my time," said Frodo. "So do I," said Gandalf, "and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us."

I would like to respectfully suggest that we make politics part of our conversation so that we may do good in times given to us. In fact, if we are celebrating Christmas as the advent of Jesus, then politics is impossible to avoid.

The Politics of Christmas

When we talk Christmas and politics, we are usually talking about whether or not we should say Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays, and maybe even boycott Starbucks. For those in the first century context who heard the good news of Jesus' birth, however, there were different political implications. The hope of a people, nation, and the world rested in God's return to his people and the promise of a king. It is in the midst of this expectation, the angel appears to the shepherds, saying: 

"Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord" (Luke 2:10).

Everything that describes Jesus in this text (born in the city of David, Messiah, and Lord) has political connotations because it carries with it the connotation that Jesus is king. It reveals the true political structure of the cosmos. Picking up the meaning of the Old Testament gospel (see Genesis 12:1-3 with Galatians 3:8; see also Isaiah 40:9-11; 52:7), the New Testament gospel proclaims that God has come and is gathering all nations back to himself through the rule and reign of Jesus. This gospel is neither private and personal. It is public and political.

There is no celebrating the birth of Jesus without discussing world politics.

More than that, the politics of Christmas can inform how we discuss politics at Christmas.

Talking Politics at Christmas

When we consider the incarnation, we find a foundational vision to every interaction with other human beings. We are called to imitate and practice the love that God demonstrates in the sending of his Son.

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. (1 John 4:7-11)

Out of love for those whom he created in his image, he sent his Son. The advent of Jesus the king is a celebration of God's love toward us--a self-giving, self-sacrificing, self-emptying love. He did this when we were weak, sinners, ungodly, and enemies of God. In our Christmas gatherings we would do well to celebrate the politics of Jesus by extending self-giving, self-sacrificing, self-emptying love to one another, even if we're talking to those who have been labeled weak, deplorable, criminals, or rapists.

Ultimately, Jesus came in such love because his people were created for something far more glorious as those created in his image. Still no one has articulated this end for which we were created and what that means for our interactions with others better than C. S. Lewis in Weight of Glory. He writes: 

It may be possible for each to think too much of his own potential glory hereafter; it is hardly possible for him to think too often or too deeply about that of his neighbor. The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbor’s glory should be laid daily on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken. It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare.
All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics.
There are no ordinary people.
You have never talked to a mere mortal.
Nations, cultures, arts, civilization—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously—no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption. And our charity must be real and costly love, with deep feeling for the sins in spite of which we love the sinner—no mere tolerance or indulgence which parodies love as flippancy parodies merriment.
Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses.

If this could be the vision we have of the people we gather with this Christmas we may find that our conversations of politics at Christmas become a joyful celebration of the politics of Christmas. We may even be able to do good in the short time given to us.

 

 

Mark Catlin