Faithful Politics

Being faithful with our politics, not political with our faith.

A Tale of Two Kings: Herod, Jesus, and the Glory of Christmas

This article was originally posted last year, but is a great reminder of the wonders of our Savior as we celebrate His birth.

I was fortunate to visit Israel in 2006, just before the war with Lebanon broke out late that summer.  There were many beautiful scenes and striking stories, but none stick out in my mind quite so strongly as the distinction between the two Kings of the Jews- Herod the Great and Jesus Christ.

Herod was a man who, even to a greater degree than some of his greatest contemporaries, left a physical mark on the land that has lasted for millennia.  The scale and brilliance of his creations must be seen to be appreciated: Caesarea, the man-made harbor on the harborless Mediterranean coast that involved sinking cement in hundreds of feet of water, and a chariot racing circuit bigger than any in Rome;  Masada, the desert fortress of an extreme paranoid that towers over the surrounding landscape, yet featured swimming pools on top; and, of course, the temple mount in Jerusalem, built ten stories tall with bus-sized blocks of limestone that can only be lifted by modern shipbuilding equipment.

It’s difficult to look at this and not think about the great power and wealth that Herod wielded; that political power is somehow the only real power that there is.  This is the mistake made by the throngs at Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, and in fact by Herod himself.  The shouts of hosanna and the murder of the innocents in Bethlehem were both derived from the mistaken belief that Jesus would directly challenge the ruling authorities and set up a kingdom of his own.

How disappointing that would have been!  Is God’s decision to advance the Gospel ‘…Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit’ a deliberate handicap to even out the playing field?  Was there ever a time in history when the Body of Christ was nearly snuffed out by persecution or war?  Has there ever been a political ideology that is anywhere close to being as widespread, long-lasting and life-changing as the words of Jesus?  Season-specifically: is the good news about the Incarnation threatened by retailers who don’t say ‘Merry Christmas?’

But of course, Jesus’ birth, life, ministry, death and resurrection had very real political consequences.  Hebrews 11 lists the Biblical heroes, who through their faith in the promised messiah “conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies.”  We continue to see this in modern times; the European and Russian Christian church is often cited as one of the bodies most responsible for the fall of the Soviet Union.  Millions of Christians around the world today are persecuted, sometimes perhaps for political activism, but more often I think, for the implicit demands that Jesus and his followers make on rulers- justice, mercy, and respect for human life.

But this is all tangential to the point at hand: how foolish it is to get swept up too deeply into the various fads and outrages of the moment, especially at the cost of the big picture.  When we look at Herod’s wonders, we don’t think about his greatness and Jesus’ insignificance; we think of a 2000-year-old madman who tinkered around in the desert, but is little more than a footnote in Jesus’ story.  I am confident that many things that seem important will one day join Herod.

So as you celebrate Christmas this year, take the opportunity to meditate on the ways that Jesus’ life informs our politics, and gain some perspective.  Compared with the glory of the Incarnation, the things we fret about every day are shockingly insignificant.  And that’s a good thing.

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