The Politics of Christmas

I have heard ‘politics’ and ‘Christmas’ mentioned in the same discussion at least twice over the past weekend. Of course, politics gets involved at Christmas – at least if you’ve tried navigating two sets of families both wanting the couple and grandkids to spend Christmas with them (having an ocean between us solves that for us). That’s not what I’m talking about here though.

So the first mention of politics was Christmas Eve when Pope Benedict XVI broadcast that’s day’s ‘Thought for the Day‘. He said, ‘And it was not a political liberation that he brought, achieved through military means: rather, Christ destroyed death for ever and restored life by means of his shameful death on the Cross.’ Given the limitations of the short broadcast time of ‘Thought for the Day’, he didn’t expand on what he meant by political. I may be reading him wrong as he may have meant that the liberation itself did not come from military might (i.e., it was not that kind of political). If he did, then agree. But, otherwise we can’t separate political and spiritual nicely.

The second from an Orthodox priest who was writing in an otherwise beautiful post on a woman’s encounter with God in church, says ‘There were no politics on that first Christmas night 2000 years ago.’ He writes this against the backdrop of politicians using the birth stories to pull at our heartstrings and encourage us to help the poor. Disingenuous politicians aside (and no doubt there are those), I can’t see how we can read the gospel stories (or the epistle to James) and see that God does not give us where he stands on this. The Advent Conspiracy book I used as the basis for our Advent study this year quoted Scott Bessenecker when he said, ‘when God voted with his birth, he voted for the poor.’ God is on the side the poor is a political statement.

But, even taking a step back, the stories are chock full of the political situation, and even foreshadow a political liberation. Caesar announces a census, and God uses it to fulfil a prophecy and get Mary to Bethlehem. More than that, Caesar wasn’t invited to the birth – instead outcasts shepherds did. Magi came from the east asking about a king and Herod tries an assassination attempt. This causes the Holy Family to become immigrants who must flee the country to seek refuge and asylum in across the border. The ‘Christmas stories’ tell us of a leader who will give us politics of a different kind.

The incarnation was more than a spiritual reality, but an event in which God stepped into the world as it is – the muck and mess of it, which invariably means stepping into politics.

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