The threat of Christmas season
By By Wesley Channell
Oppression, corruption and injustice are nothing new. Thousands of years ago, Solomon wrote these words: "If you see a poor person being oppressed by the powerful and justice being miscarried throughout the land, don't be surprised! For every official is under orders from higher up and matters of justice only get lost in red tape and bureaucracy." (Ecclesiastes 5:8). Going further back than Solomon, one sees societal corruption even in the earliest stages of civilization in the book of Genesis.
Of course, corruption and injustice won't bother anyone as long as they ignore it and go along with it. It is sort of like the school bully. He won't bother you, as long as you let him have his way. But speak up, or stand up to the bully of injustice and the status quo and you will face the consequences!
There are different ways in the past that people have chosen to "stand up." The much-heralded 1976 film, NETWORK, illustrates one of the ways. In this film, the main character is a network news anchor that gets fed up with the status quo and winking at all the pain and corruption he sees in the world. Finally, one day while broadcasting on the nightly news he says, "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore!" Then he encourages all his viewers to go to their windows, open them and shout out for the entire world to hear that they are mad as hell and not going to take it anymore either. We then see scenes of people all across America venting their anger and frustration by screaming out their windows. What is being advocated here is just a form of anarchy, and though in the short run people may express their frustration, in the long run things never change.
Another approach to political corruption is revolution. The late anti-war advocate Phillip Berrigan said, "I see no point in working within an evil system. Christ was never a reformer. He didn't advocate voting for one corrupt politician over another,'' Berrigan wrote. '"He preached that we should dismantle, not attempt to patch, the state.'' He is right that Christ never sought to work within the political system to bring about change, but Berrigan is wrong in stating that Christ preached we should dismantle the state. Christ was not a political revolutionary, though He is always the cause of political and social change. He is a threat to the world system, because He is the rightful ruler of the world.
In the midst of the Christmas season, we like to cast our minds on the sentimental notions of an innocent babe in a manger in a bucolic and pastoral setting. However, if we read the whole Christmas story, we will realize this innocent babe was considered a threat from the very beginning. Not only did all the angels of heaven shout His praise, but also earthly rulers and the religious status quo were shaken and afraid of this new coming king and sought to keep Him from coming into His rightful kingdom.
Matthew 2:1-23 tells us the story of Herod, the wise men, the flight to Egypt and the slaughter of the innocents. It is not a happy story, but it is part of the Christmas story and helps us understand why Christmas is always a threat. Herod was half-Jewish and a self-made man, forcing his way through intrigue and slaughter into becoming the unquestioned local ruler of Israel. He wasn't of any royal lineage and had no true rights to be king, but was a political opportunist and puppet. He was a "king" in as much as the Romans would let him be one and he brought great prosperity and progress to his kingdom.
When three servants of the king of Persia (which we know as the wise men) came to the court of Herod, they were coming to find out where the newly born king of the Jews was living. This threatened both Herod and the religious leaders of Jerusalem, for they knew the prophecies of a rightful king that would come from Bethlehem. However, even though they knew what the scriptures said, they sided with Herod and the corrupt status quo because of the political security and economic prosperity he had brought. Ultimately, these corrupt forces joined together in an attempt to try to kill Jesus by killing all the children two years of age or less in the area where Jesus had been living. God, however, had warned Jesus' parents to flee to Egypt and the rightful king Jesus was spared death as an infant.
Why did Herod and the religious leaders do this awful thing? They did this not because Jesus is or would become a revolutionary, but because the true King of Kings is always a threat to the status quo. He is the ruler of hearts and where He rules in the heart, no corruption – political, moral or social – can rule.
The great American patriot and minister, Samuel Davies helps us understand Jesus' rule. He tells us, "Jesus is the Lord of souls; He makes His subjects bow their hearts as well as the knee to Him. He sweetly commands their thoughts and affections as well as their external practice, and makes Himself inwardly beloved as well as outwardly obeyed. His subjects are such on whom He may depend: they are all ready to lay down their lives for Him. Love, cordial, unfeigned, ardent love is the principle of all their obedience."
King Jesus cannot suffer dual allegiances, thus the Herods of the world cannot stand the invasion of the rightful king and the kingdom of heaven. They know that the beauty of the gospel acts like a cleansing agent to seek out, destroy and nullify all corruption and injustice, liberating the oppressed, forgiving sinners and restoring broken souls.
Though we all want to celebrate Christmas with romantic sentimentality, Christmas heralds the beginning of a revolution. It is threatening because it heralds a revolution that begins from the inside out and places the kingdom of God in the hearts of those who believe in Jesus. Though the citizens of this kingdom are far from perfect, a perfect Lord rules them. This Lord seeks to reform their hearts, overturning selfishness and pride, unseating corruption and deceit and implanting a conscience to do His will. These citizens, in turn, become a light to the world around them pointing to the refuge of the Kingdom of God where all can flee the oppression of sin and injustice. And they become salt to the world, preserving it from plunging in to total decay and moral abandon.
But this is a threat. It is a threat to the god of self, it is a threat to the god of this world and to the world order of dog eat dog and the biggest dog wins. Christmas is always a threat to such things and has been from the beginning. Mary knew it even before she bore the Christ child and she sang of her coming son with these words:
"His mighty arm does tremendous things! How he scatters the proud and haughty ones! He has taken princes from their thrones and exalted the lowly. He has satisfied the hungry with good things and sent the rich away with empty hands. And how He has helped His servant Israel! He has not forgotten His promise to be merciful" (Luke 1:51-54).
As the King of Christmas is celebrated once again this year, may He unseat all foreign rulers from your hearts and establish Himself more fully in your lives as you enjoy both His rule and His mercy.
Wesley Channell is pastor of First Presbyterian Church.