It should be alarming how much we have personalized the Christmas story. The story of a child born ‘for us’ and the love God shows to humanity through this birth has communicated to countless souls their value and worth to a Universal Being. It has inspired many to live their lives in gratitude to this love.
What this story has not seemed to communicate, at least not in my lifetime, is the love of God for states. Consider the phrases we hear during this season:
“The newborn king”
“Prince of Peace”
“He rules the world”
“the government on his shoulders”
“his kingdom shall know no end”
“let loving hearts enthrone him”
Let’s be clear: just because the system of government referred to is an absolute monarchy does not make the Christ child any less political. The story of a child born to a humble family in Bethlehem in 1st century Palestine was and always has been a political one, from the prophecies about his political affiliation (son of David) to the reaction of politicians once he was born (genocide).
I suppose we steer away from the political nature of Jesus’ birth because we have acquired a jaded view of politics ourselves: can politics even be good? Are governments redeemable? Are there such thing as good politicians? How does a person of faith even pray for the state?
And yet centuries before the child King was born, a prophet painted a picture of good politics. Politics that worked. Worked well, in fact. Listen to his portrait:
“In days to come
the mountain of the Lord’s house
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
and shall be raised above the hills;
all the nations shall stream to it.
Many peoples shall come and say,
‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the house of the God of Jacob;
that he may teach us his ways
and that we may walk in his paths.’
For out of Zion shall go forth instruction,
and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He shall judge between the nations,
and shall arbitrate for many peoples.” (Isaiah 2: 2 – 4)
Isaiah imagined a government wherein politics worked so well that people flocked to it, not to tolerate it but to learn from it. They go to this particular government to see first-hand how good decisions are made. Other countries send delegations to go there to learn how to run their own governments. Nations that couldn’t resolve conflict would come to this government and say, “we trust you! You’re good at this. Help us figure out our differences.”
Could any earthly political system be this good? According to Isaiah, yes. He wasn’t imagining some pie-in-the-sky scenario. He believed politics could be that good. On this earth. In our world and among our people.
We should too.
No matter how far off such a lofty vision of politics might be, no matter how long it might take to get there, no matter how upright, authentic, and trustworthy the politicians would have to be to sustain it, this Christmas, believe it can be so. Take a step of faith. And work towards it, in whatever small way you know how.
That’s what the baby did.