ISAIAH 9:5–7 NLT 1996
In that day of peace, battle gear will no longer be issued. Never again will uniforms be bloodstained by war. All such equipment will be burned.
For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. And the government will rest on his shoulders. These will be his royal titles: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His ever expanding, peaceful government will never end. He will rule forever with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David. The passionate commitment of the Lord Almighty will guarantee this!
On election day 2016, a small group of us gathered at the statue of Francis Asbury in Washington, DC, to pray. We weren’t praying for a particular outcome to the election, but rather for who God’s people would be regardless of the vote.
I wrote down some of the prayers, which included:
God, we confess that we have left to the government the work of the church. We confess we’ve been more excited to talk about who we’re voting for than about you.
Why were we there? Because of what happened at Christmas. We’re taught not to mix religion and politics, but that’s exactly how Luke begins the birth of Jesus story, with the Roman emperor Augustus. In his study on Luke, N. T. Wright points out that Caesar Augustus came to power through a bloody civil war, turned the Roman republic into an empire, and declared that he alone brought justice and peace to the whole world. He would be called savior, divine, lord, and “son of [a] god.”
Into this political reality, Jesus is born. The early church would make the political statement, “Jesus is Lord,” which meant Caesar was not. But let’s be honest . . . we struggle with this in our place and time. Every four years, half of us (statistically speaking) want to spike the ball in the electoral college end-zone, and the other half want to run for the Canadian hills. And with each cycle, we fall into the trap of believing if our candidate wins, there will be justice and peace to the whole world. For many of us, our tendency is to say, “Jesus is Lord, Caesar is not . . . as long as it’s not my Caesar.”
Scripture seems frustratingly inconsistent on the role of government and politicians. God uses a king and an army, but also says not to put your trust in them. Paul says to obey the governing authorities, but then rebels against them.
So how does the baby Jesus politically speak into all this? The root word for politics means “the public affairs of a people.” And for God, all politics is global because he loved the world so much that Jesus was born. Throughout history, the work of God and the good news of Jesus has continued to move, whether Pharaoh, Emperor, Führer, Dictator, Dear Leader, Your Majesty, Prime Minister, or President is on the political throne.
Jesus is political, but not in the ways we think, practice, or post on Twitter. The government rests on a baby’s shoulders because he’s about the public affairs of a people from a place of humble incarnation, not hubris election. And his people are called to a radically different political campaign.
What does that look like? Well, let’s go back to our election day prayers. Why is there even a statue of Francis Asbury on horseback in Washington, DC? Asbury was the first Methodist bishop to the United States, and on May 15, 1924, his statue was dedicated as the fifteenth rider to Washington. The previous fourteen were all military leaders. But this one was a missionary, and the celebration was not for the wars won, but the souls saved.
The dedication was given by President Calvin Coolidge, who declared that Asbury, did not come for political motives. Undoubtedly they were farthest from his mind. Others could look after public affairs. He was a loyal and peaceful subject of the Realm. He came to bring the gospel to the people, to bear witness to the truth and to follow it where so ever it might lead. Wherever men dwelt, whatever their condition, no matter how remote, no matter how destitute they might be, to him they were souls to be saved.
The irony can’t be lost that the government approved and dedicated a monument to a movement that government can’t make. President Coolidge went on to say, “the real reforms which society in these days is seeking will come as a result of our religious convictions, or they will not come at all. Peace, justice, humanity, charity; these cannot be legislated into being. They are the result of a Divine Grace.”
Because Jesus is Lord. Caesar is not.
So come, let us adore him.
N. T. Wright, Luke for Everyone (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004).
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