Thursday, December 20, 2018
Born into Chaos: Walking in Love--Political and Divine Forces (Luke 2:1-7) by Rev. Dr. Steve Locke
There are two forces in the world that affect our human decisions and our motives. We know them as the political operations of the world and the spiritual operations of the heaven. They are constantly driving us and competing for our loyalty, but as Jesus says you cannot serve God and mammon. (He could have easily said, “You cannot serve God and Politics”) You must choose. Paul even addresses the issue with the following statement, “Jesus made inoperative the principalities and powers of this world.” His point being that we called upon to prioritize between Jesus’ way of life and a political way of life. What do we do? How are we to live amidst the two forces? We have a better idea of this battle and how to choose when we understand what both operations are trying to do in this world. Strangely Luke’s story of the birth of Jesus helps us to glean the purpose of both. In his telling of the story he exposes the motives of the political world and its assault on the life of the lowly of the world, and what God is trying to do in the world.
So what is the operation of politics? It is actually a very good word highlighting the purpose of the state to govern the communities it is responsible for. It is meant to express the desires of people to make decisions for the welfare of the state. It first came into existence during the Athenian Democracy. But what happened over the years in Athens and then throughout the centuries is that those rising to power didn’t want to give up power and they began to shape the political purpose instead of the people. Therefore, politics is a vulnerable operation that needs the voice of the many, but usually only receives the voice of the few. It makes it susceptible to corruption and moves against the spiritual sphere of life to quiet its voice.
In the subtle telling of the story of Jesus’ birth Luke exposes the operation of the political strategy of Rome. Luke says when Mary was pregnant, Quirinius, under obligation to Augustus, calls for a census of the people in Israel and other nations. They needed to put together an evaluation of tax income so it was determined that a census was necessary to provide this information. You can imagine it became a burden on the populace. The poor who did not live in their own place of birth had to travel, and travel was expensive. But for the wealthy it was not. The state did not care about the poor or the economically challenged. They just wanted to know the number. The spiritual sphere of kindness was under assault. The rich had their way of getting off the hook, but the poor had no power. Mary and Joseph had to go to Bethlehem miles away from where they lived. Politics, instead of helping all its citizens, burdened them and their livelihood and personal life. Mary had to go while being pregnant. Politics may be necessary but when it is governed by indifference it does not help.
Luke continues with his story and tells of the divine announcement which was not to the powerful but to the lowly. The divine voice often moves the insignificant of the world and then makes them the ones who will hold the truth for those who want to believe. Politics can drown out the voice of the spiritual but it will always be carried by those who walk humbly in the world. The shepherds came running to Bethlehem but I wonder if the powerful would have done so. It is not that the political sphere is against the spiritual, according to Luke, it is just indifferent to its purpose. But Luke, and eventually Jesus himself, proclaims that the real life of the citizens of this world is lived outside the world of politics. We live in the world of the spiritual.
We will never live in a world without politics; that is the ordering of communities by a constitution driven by the powerful. It will always be imperfect and at times will be indifferent to the needs of all its citizens. What we can hope for is that the world of the spiritual will continue to affect the hearts of both citizens and leaders to bend their actions to God’s will. But what Luke reminds us of is that it is the humble who God entrusts with the Good News of salvation. That is a hopeful thing. God chooses the weak of the world to confound the wise. God chooses the lowly of the world to bend the knees of the proud. I love the way Luke describes the response of the Shepherds after hearing the news of the child born in Bethlehem, “Let’s go and see this thing the Lord has done.” No skepticism, no indifference and no ambivalence. In fact the original language suggests that they ran to Bethlehem. They couldn’t wait. The Angel’s excited them with their message. They were not only excited for themselves, they were excited for the world. The Messiah will come and bend the knee of all by his glory, not his message of fear. Politics will not be able to use his coming for its own ends, because the embrace of the message will expose the indifference of power for what it is. Instead the child will attempt to bring the world together, “I am bringing you good news of great joy to the entire world. Today is born to you a savior.”