political christmas

Political Christmas

on December 26, 2019

Lots of commentary claims Christmas is profoundly political. A blog from a retired United Methodist bishop offered the usual talking points:

Politics is about power, its definition and use. Christmas is about God’s politics, God’s definition and exercise of power.

Here are the  images of God’s power:

  • a baby born among the homeless,
  • an immigrant child escaping violence,
  • a carpenter/preacher speaking truth to prevailing religious and political power,
  • a compassionate healer of the sick who welcomes outcasts,
  • the crucified Jesus extending forgiveness to thieves and a violent mob,
  • the Risen Christ, still bearing the scars of crucifixion,
  • the Living Christ present in the longing for wholeness, justice, and peace.

There’s truth in some of these claims of course but also some confusions deployed for political points. Was the Holy Family homeless, as is commonly claimed? They and others in Bethlehem were only if travelers unable to secure lodgings qualify as such.

Were the Holy Family immigrants? They later escaped to Egypt after King Herod sought to kill Baby Jesus. They did not immigrate to Egypt, which was part of the Roman Empire, but stayed there, likely among Hebrew kindred, until Herod died. They could be called political refugees or exiles. And there’s no evidence they broke any laws in their sojourn to Egypt. It was Herod who was lawless.

Herod sought to kill Jesus because he knew of the prophecy about a Messiah born in Bethlehem. His reasons for infanticide were political and religious. The Holy Family were fleeing religious persecution. Yet, oddly, claimants of a political Christmas never reference global religious persecution. They prefer talking points about USA immigration and welfare policies, whose remedies are always statist. That Herod, and Rome, were the ultimate statists does not usually occur to the advocates of political Christmas.

The Methodist bishop offered this remedy for his version of Christmas politics:

The answer to our current politics of destruction and dysfunction is God’s Christmas politics of compassion and justice. We most properly celebrate  by

acts of mercy and justice toward the poor, vulnerable, and powerless

welcoming the outcasts and strangers

caring for the sick and frail

comforting the grieving and dying

 visiting the imprisoned and lonely

practicing forgiveness in a culture of vengeance

living and demanding honesty and integrity

trusting the power of love over coercion and domination

cultivating confidence in the ultimate triumphant of God’s love!

God’s Christmas politics WILL win!

Of course Christians should be busy in all these acts of charity and mercy. And our focus should be on our own obligations and the church’s, not always defaulting to government action, which itself can become Herodian.

But the focus can’t be on just the material and social. The Incarnation of God in Jesus isn’t simply a call to charity and niceness. It’s political because it reveals Christ and not Caesar or Herod is Lord. Even more fearfully, it reveals we ourselves cannot be Lord. God came to earth not just to dethrone tyrants but to dethrone each one of us from our captivity to sin.

Exponents of political Christmas don’t like to dwell on Jesus as Savior come to redeem all of sinful humanity. They prefer focusing on wider societal injustices without reflecting on our own personal contributions to the world’s evils.

Jesus as Savior requires more than correct political attitudes. He requires personal repentance and holiness, which is far more discomfiting. Traditional Christmas unlike political Christmas means we can’t be victims and sanctimonious judges. Instead, it is we who are justifiably judged, and also mercifully saved, which is the best news of all.

Political Christmas is temporal and materialistic. It’s partly true but in a very meager way. Traditional Christmas is eternal and cosmic. Its indictment of ourselves is more challenging but also more truthful than the blame game of political Christmas.

Traditional Christmas offers an endless bounty of divine grace from a Baby Jesus who’s not homeless or immigrant but God in the flesh, Judge and Savior equally to all. Political Christmas seems grim and mechanical by comparison. Real Christmas was joyful in Bethlehem and is for us now and forever.

  1. Comment by all to true on December 26, 2019 at 5:54 pm

    Neither do the people you speak of ever come up with any solutions to the problems they speak about. Their only answer is a new government program or changing society in some way that is counter-productive or destructive to the communities they speak about.

    It gets tiring to hear what they say, when their actions seem to suggest they will do little or nothing constructive to make things better.

  2. Comment by David on December 26, 2019 at 8:36 pm

    I recall a program about 1st C. houses in Palestine that mentioned that people and animals often lived under the same roof. The slightly raised floor (likely “the inn”) was for people while the ground level floor (perhaps “the stable”) was for the animals. It is possible the animals were kicked out for the ocassion.

  3. Comment by Geary on December 27, 2019 at 8:04 am

    There is no indication any animals were harmed or inconvencienced when the Christ Child moved in!

  4. Comment by David on December 27, 2019 at 12:32 pm

    Well, the manger was the food source location for the animals. If they had been around, Baby Jesus might have gotten ate.

  5. Comment by Bill on December 27, 2019 at 7:48 pm

    Livestock eating a human baby? How much time have you spent on the farm?

  6. Comment by David on December 27, 2019 at 9:35 pm

    “Yet, in the sad video above, we see a cow eating a baby chicken alive. This video is a few years old, but what it shows—the chicken-eating tendencies of a cow—was anything but a one-off, says Darren Naish for his blog, Tetrapod Zoology. In India, a cow named Lal ate as many as 48 chickens in a month, says Reuters.” — Smithsonian Magazine

    Cows are not strict herbivores, neither are pigs, though presumably, they were not kept

  7. Comment by John10 on December 27, 2019 at 11:20 am

    My observation is that in these churches, what really gets peoples’ hearts beating fast are matters of politics and culture, not religion. One can go months or years without hearing any sermons from Paul, for example, who emphasizes such topics as faith, sexual morality, second coming and judgment, and an uncompromising statement of the gospel. Those topics have little relevance if your main interest is political and cultural.

  8. Comment by Bill on December 27, 2019 at 7:49 pm

    The best commentary I’ve read here in quite some time.

  9. Comment by John on December 28, 2019 at 12:11 pm

    Political Christmases strike me as joyless. They are, instead sternly moralistic, as the political preacher attempts to shame the congregants into supporting whatever cause the preacher favors. I attended a Christmas Eve service many years ago where the preacher railed against Israel in his homily and identified Jesus as a “Palestinian” baby, which was both anachronistic and anti-Semitic. Next to that performance, I’ll happily watch Die Hard instead as my Christmas tradition.

  10. Comment by Nina on December 28, 2019 at 1:54 pm

    Well…a bishop should know about power and politics since that is their mantra in all church issues. What difference does it make where Jesus was born, where he lived etc….He is Gods son, born to save us.

  11. Comment by Donald Sensing on December 29, 2019 at 7:43 am

    I posted about that the day after Christmas, keying on churches displaying using the Christ-child in the manger behind bars to score political points against Trump.

  12. Comment by Lisa Aldrich on December 29, 2019 at 10:26 am

    Political Christmas requires individuals to change to conform to the will of those preaching or advocating. Real Christmas reminds us that despite power or poverty, despite evil intent, despite all efforts to control the time and scene, God had another plan that made all the powerful, the grownups, the parents, the villagers, the government, the people – everybody- know that HE WAS GOD. NONE OF US WERE GOD. AND HIS PLAN WAS GOING TO HAPPEN. IT WOULD NOT LOOK THE WAY WE THOUGHT IT WOULD. AND HE WOULD DO WHAT HE PLANNED. AND MOST OF ALL, HIS PLAN WOULD BE FOR OUR GOOD – DESPITE THE FACT THAT WE DON’T DESERVE IT AT ALL!

  13. Comment by Mark Flynn on December 30, 2019 at 6:32 am

    Thank you for your thoughtful and well-written article. As you have suggested, the biggest problem with the political Christmas is not what is said but what is left unsaid. Christmas is about salvation. Those who have overlooked that need to look at “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.”

  14. Comment by Loren J Golden on January 1, 2020 at 5:55 pm

    Which version of “Hark!  The Herald Angels Sing”?  The traditional version that, in the second verse, sings, “…pleased as man with men to dwell…”, and in the third verse, sings, “…born that man no more may die, born to raise the sons of earth…”?  Or the politically correct version that sings, “…pleased in flesh with us to dwell…” and “…born that we no more may die, born to raise us from the earth…”?

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