What Does Christmas Mean for Politics?
Editor’s Note: What does Christmas mean for a calling to work in politics? Too often it seems we devolve into worrying about rights to display manger scenes, forgetting that the child at the center of those scenes came to tell us we don’t have to be anxious about our rights anymore, because he came to make all things new.
Or perhaps we use the birth of Jesus as just another talking point, another tweet, another trump card to use over our political “enemies” as we strive to get them in line with our world view. To speak for myself, for too long the reality of Christmas has been disconnected from a calling to work in politics. But truly seeing a nativity scene gives us the ultimate picture of humility and of restoration. Do we share our faith as incredibly good news, as our greatest hope, or do we speak of Christmas with the fierce urgency of defending our own self-made opinions?
I think when we begin to see the storyline of Christmas for the category shaking that it is, our response will be a quiet inner peace, a hope that we share with anyone willing to listen, and a confident, fresh approach to a political culture that seems willingly bent on excluding creativity, truth, and beauty from our work. If you’re not a follower of Jesus, what I hope you see today is that the storyline of Christmas does in fact have countless applications for our political culture, as today’s writer notes from the inside of Capitol Hill. I hope this Christmas we can look at a nativity scene and instead of being gripped by fear of what we might lose, see the one who came to this earth to heal us and set us free. I hope that followers of Jesus see a role model to follow in our work, and that anyone who is not a follower will see through the religious clutter that forces joy and peace out of Christmas, and instead see the gift of joy and peace given by the one who called us to abundant life.
-Caleb Paxton, LIBERATUS Founder
What Does Christmas Mean for A Calling in Politics?
Not only is it Christmas season, it is omnibus season here on Capitol Hill. The hours are long, the deals are cut, and this time of year always seems to highlight a universal dissatisfaction with our political system. At times like this, I see members of Congress and staffers alike ask themselves “why am I doing this again?”
At times like this, I question why I even work at all. As I have referenced before, what differentiates mere work from a vocational calling is whom you do it for. Am I just working for my own fulfillment, or do I work because the Creator of the universe has asked to use me in his work to redeem all things? What even gives my work meaning? It is helpful for me as a Staff Assistant to remember during these especially dysfunctional times that I work for an audience of one, and so regardless of the political outcomes, I can abide where he has me.
That doesn’t mean that those of us with vocational callings on Capitol Hill are left to just accept things the way they are. Why not?
Because of Christmas.
Christmas is the celebration of one who came to break into destructive darkness and dysfunctional cycles to bring restoration and healing. So how does that inform my work in a dysfunctional space?
The “Messiah” came to Earth preceded by centuries of prophetic teachings to establish himself as the ultimate King. Although not a political figure (he far transcends that!) Christ comes from the lineage of Kings and perfectly fulfills the prophecies heralding him. Both those roles—the roles of prophet and of King—correspond to similar callings in politics.
As those of us in politics know, we fall broadly into two camps: one advising those in positions of power (the prophet), or one who is elected as a representative governing people (the king). Fortunately, by looking at historical examples of kings and prophets, those of us who are called to politics have the prophetic storyline of Christmas to inform our posture and direction. As we examine scripture to learn more about how to be a “king” in a way that has lasting significance, we recognize Jesus as the ultimate King. By looking to Christ and his lineage, we can see what it means to glorify God even as a politician on Capitol Hill.
Test Your Heart Intentions
Political culture is often a very dark place, and pursuing positions of power for selfish gain leads to destruction. Both the news and scripture are filled with tragic tales of man’s self-destruction in seats of power. This is nothing new. And what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, but lose his soul?
King David rises in our minds as perhaps the most prominent Old Testament example of a “King of Israel.” Despite his failures, David was honored as the man after God’s own heart. So what was on David’s wish list for Christmas? In Psalm 27 David writes, “One thing have I asked of the Lord that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple.” The one thing David wanted most in the whole world was a different one—it was to be in God’s presence.
Submit Your Government to an Eternal One
If this pursuit of a career in politics is for your own glory, and not for God’s, it will consume you. In the culture of Capitol Hill, it is normal to meet politicians who would clearly sacrifice anything for political prestige or position, and they do. I have worked for such individuals, and it is tragic to watch as they sacrifice relationships with their children and their spouse, their own health, or even their own identity and moralism to attain power. Each achievement is fleeting, and never fully satiates a hunger to legitimize our own significance.
Christmas again can change the narrative: even Jesus himself was tempted with this alluring proposition for power in Matthew 11: 8-11. “Satan took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, ‘All these I will give to you, if you will fall down and worship me.’” King Jesus responded by saying “Be gone Satan, for it is written ‘you shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’” In politics, other men and women will bow down around you to worship other things because they are seeking the glory of the kingdoms of this world. The remedy for desiring earthly power is to be in awe of God’s eternal and ultimate power. If we do not have a heart of worship, we deceive ourselves and believe we own power, when power is loaned and delegated by the Creator.
Know and Obey Scripture
Throughout Kings and Chronicles patterns emerge that show how each ruler’s personal relationship with God impacted the direction of the nation. King Hezekiah “did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, and he trusted the Lord God of Israel” and the nation of Israel flourished (2 Kings 18). Hezekiah’s predecessor, King Jeroboam, disobeyed the Lord and the nation of Israel suffered. As King David wrote, “For the LORD watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked leads to destruction.” Our country and all countries are in desperate need of leaders who personally follow the teachings of Jesus. If you choose the path of righteousness, that will give life to others. If you walk down the path of destruction, it could even lead to death.
Recognize that True Leadership is Service
Although servant leadership is captured in the term “public servant” it is often contradictory to actual leadership styles in political culture. Working on Capitol Hill, it is easy to pick out the politicians without even looking for their pendants. Sadly, seemingly “unimportant” individuals are invisible to them—but isn’t that true for most of us, regardless of our position? We have an innate bent to please those who can help us. I am guilty of doing this as well. That’s why we need Christmas. Christ, the ultimate King, was laid in a manger and rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. With a lifestyle of perfect humility, Jesus turned the world upside down.
As Mark writes, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Hopefully, a career in politics will not lead to a literal crucifixion, but it will lead to many opportunities to serve others.
Jesus himself said in Matthew 20:16 “so the last will be first, and the first last.” He baffled and confused others when they expected a victorious Messiah to overthrow Rome, and he instead washed feet.
We treat politicians as more important than janitors, and we even select politicians based on external criteria. All of us who engage in American political culture would be wise to remember God’s instruction to Samuel when he sent him to anoint the King of Israel: “But the LORD said to Samuel, ‘Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.’”
Charles Dickens echoed this in A Christmas Carol when the Ghost of Christmas Present admonishes Scrooge for his disregard for the dignity of marginalized, neglected, and impoverished human life, saying, “Will you decide what men shall live, what men shall die? It may be, that in the sight of Heaven, you are more worthless and less fit to live than millions like this poor man's child.”
This world’s value structure does not reflect ultimate reality. The Lord weighs the heart, and values “a broken and contrite spirit.” Count others as more important than yourselves, and recognize that while you are at the top, perhaps the person God plans to use most mightily is at the bottom. Value what your King values, not what the world tells you to value in others.
Choose Your Advisors Well
King David had Nathaniel, King Hezekiah had Isaiah, Pharaoh had Joseph, and even King Xerxes had Esther. If you endeavor to continue the story of Christmas and glorify Jesus, surround yourself with others who will call you to that standard and who seek to do the same (In the near future I hope to journal more on the calling of “prophets” – those who speak truth to power.)
This Christmas season, we celebrate the coming of the Creator putting on flesh and humbling himself in the form of a vulnerable infant. That is true kingship. Those who claim to follow that King in a vocational calling as a politician have a hard path that requires inverting this world’s value structure. But the position is ripe with opportunity. Merry Christmas!
WEEKLY ACTION ITEM:
Spend some time journaling this week on what Christmas means for your involvement in politics, wherever you are. How is the story of Christmas challenging and changing your perspective?
Want to take this a step further? When political topics come up over the holidays, turn the discussion towards how we can all work to bring healing and restoration in a culture that desperately needs it.
The writer is a Staff Assistant in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Photo Credit: Death to Stock