No, I don’t mean Jesus, I mean the 2016 elections.
Yes, it’s Christmas Eve, and November 2016 seems a long ways away, but it isn’t. While Obama is a lame Christmas duck, especially thanks to the midterm elections, those eager to sit on the American throne, and those eager to place their heroes there are already at work.
- Hillary and Jeb are lining up, or being lined up as the establishment candidates
- Polling gurus say the Republic field hasn’t been this split in 40 years
- Many want Elizabeth Warren to run
- Jim Webb maybe could do it!
Christmas is Political
We shouldn’t imagine that Christmas isn’t political. Herod wasn’t fooled.
I don’t say this to make my religion more political, but rather to recognize that politics is religious.
It wasn’t so many years ago that Barack Obama would change the world. His skin color alone was supposed to make everything different. Ferguson and Staten Island seem to say different. He was supposed to bring the nation together, but as it often happens that is a happy fantasy of the victors, not the vanquished.
I remember listening to his campaign speeches thinking “you’re setting yourself and your followers up for some serious disappointment and when you can’t pull it off they’ll blame you.” You didn’t need to be a genius to see that, just a cynic.
Hope Springs Eternal
So now the Republicans are hopeful that Jeb might restore, or Ted might REALLY restore, or Rand might set things libertarian right.
The Democrats are hopeful that Hillary can break the glass ceiling, Elizabeth could bring down big _________ (fill in the blank) or Jim might be a warrior for peace for the sake of our boys (and girls).
Someone will win in 2016, and maybe they aren’t even on the list (poor Joe Biden). No matter how good (Abe Lincoln) or bad (Richard Nixon) they will disappoint.
We Naturally Seek Messiahs
In the text for this coming Sunday Simeon and Anna find their Messiah but see him in a very Jewish light. They were looking for “the consolation of Israel” and the “redemption of Jerusalem”. Neither probably lived long enough to be severely disappointed by Good Friday.
Careful readers of the Bible will note that Luke is pulling hard on Samuel and Isaiah. The new chapter of this Messiah will be as no one could imagine. The shape of light to the Gentiles will frustrate the Christian Judaizers with Paul writing sharp critical things to the Galatians. How does the destruction of the temple in 70AD express her consolation or redemption? We stand with the disciples puzzling the meaning for the cursed fig tree.
We don’t like complicated Messiahs. We hated Jimmy Carter for telling us to “put on a sweater” so we could lower the thermostat.
If anything I think Jesus should make our politics less religious. He also reveals why we sometimes give up religion for politics, at least in the short term.
Religion writes the kind of bold lines life in the age of decay can seldom fulfill.
The (skeptical) “Truth” of the Story
The controversial Brandon Ambrosino did this little video for Vox in which he perfectly articulates the state of urbane American attitudes about religion “we can’t really know…”. He sets the story straight in a very predictable and common way. He paid attention at Liberty University and can find a good Kenneth Bailey citation. He leaves us, however, in the uncanny valley of the post-naive believing community.
We know enough to deny biblicism (cue Pete Enns) yet we reject mere liberal symbolism (“Christmas is an ancient story that was just another way of saying that God is with us all…”). We want the story but we are haunted by Brandon saying “we can’t really know with certainty one way or another…” OK, but where does that leave us?
Politics we seem able to lay our hands on but religion is squishy.
Luke, Simeon and Anna pray for real things leaning on Samuel and Isaiah. They will need to trust through Good Friday looking for Easter.
Jesus changes Isaiah even as he fulfills his work
There is something bizarre about our knowing skepticism. A heart that knows the limits of its own tools to know must finally find a place to rest. Jesus keeps pointing to children as examples of how to believe. I have found the scholarly explanations for that illustration never terribly transparent.
Both Nicodemus and John Suk note that you can’t go back again and be naive as a child. I think the point of childlike faith is that it is faith in a person. A child looks to mom or dad not primarily for information but for action. A child looks to mom or dad to save, like Simeon or Anna, even if their second temple Judaism can’t fully appreciate how this child will change everything, even Samuel and Isaiah.
Maybe this is why all our political messiahs disappoint yet we, even the urbane, are perpetual suckers for the next one.
The true cynic says “there will never be a savior”. The believer says “The Savior has come, and I will see his salvation with my very eyes.”