The Power and Politics of the First Christmas
By Rev. Dan Luke
The great Greek philosopher, Aristotle (384-322 BC), is believed to be the first person to introduce the word ‘politics’ to the world. He saw politics primarily as social interactions that occur between one or more people in relation to governance, the use of power and the ability of individuals and businesses to achieve higher forms of social life.
A key idea in the expression of politics is POWER. How power can be acquired and used for personal good as well as that of others. Politics is very necessary for social interactions that can lead to enhanced social wellbeing. Politics is good and necessary. In fact, where two or more people are gathered, politics is in their midst. It is in the family, the church, the community and everywhere. But politics becomes bad when, instead of being used to promote people and their well being, it is used by an individual to promote himself.
This article considers the political undertones of the birth of Jesus. He was born into a real world with a mixture of black and white, joy and sorrow, good and evil. Most often however, the Christmas event is viewed through children’s lenses: Santa Claus or Father Christmas, gifts and food. We greet and wish each other, “Merry Christmas!” when we celebrate the season without giving it much thought! To ‘merry’ means to be in good spirits, good humour, and joyful. In fact, the dictionary defines ‘merry’ informally as being “slightly and good-humorously drunk.” Could this be the reason why some spend Christmas drinking to stupor! Well, what was the scenario like for those who were part of the very first Christmas? Was it really a celebration for all of them: the Wise Men, Herod, the chief priests and scribes, Joseph, Mary and all those who were directly or indirectly a part of the happenings? How did power and politics play out in the events of the first Christmas?
The Wise Men (Magi), Matt. 2: 1-2, 11
These were astrologers. Astrologers are people who study the movements and relative positions of celestial objects – stars, planets, galaxies and other terrestrial bodies. Matthew 2: 2 tells us that these Wise Men (scientists) saw a star in the east and recognized it as one belonging to Jesus, the new-born King! Science believes in empirical evidence – these scientists saw! They followed the star they saw to worship the One it was leading them to. We are not told if these Wise Men were believers in Yahweh, the God of the Jews. But whatever their religious penchant, they followed the star they saw. The politics of their profession as astrologers did not deter them from accepting the reality and power of the STAR they saw. When they got to the baby, the new-born King, they bowed, worshipped and offered Him gifts!
Herod, Matt. 2: 3-9, 16
This was the politician, the ruler in Jerusalem at the time of the birth of Jesus. Unlike the Wise Men, Herod did not see a “star” in the new born child, he saw a political opponent instead. He saw a threat to his throne. Today, many celebrate Christmas but are not willing to allow Christ take over the throne of their lives! This brings about a struggle for power and control. Christmas is about the coming of the REAL OWNER of the throne of your life to take ownership of it.
What Herod saw politically, led to his action, Matthew 2
He was troubled, v3. The truth and reality of Jesus troubled Herod. He was not ready for the change that was about to happen to him. Imagine, he had power as the ruler of the land, yet the news of the birth of a baby troubled him! You see, power, except that given by God and used for His purposes, is troubling; it does not give peace. No wonder people in power and authority always have to visit one juju priest to another to acquire power to protect themselves. The power they have does not seem to be enough to protect them.
All Jerusalem was troubled along with Herod, v3. The entire city sided with the evil of its ruler – majority is not always right, democracy is not always popular.
He assembled religious leaders, v4. Even today, politicians use gullible religious leaders to achieve their aims. Like Judas Iscariot, a religious leader, one of Jesus’ disciples, sold his Master. There are many in clerical gowns today that are trading Jesus for money and fame.
He summoned the Wise Men SECRETLY, v7. Most political plots are hatched in secret. Good things are normally done in the open for all to see. Bad things are normally done in secrecy and under the cover of darkness.
He lied to the Wise Men about going to worship the new born child, v8. Many lies go on in politics. As they say, in politics, there are no permanent friends or enemies, only permanent interests. When lies promote interests, they are excused as being a part of the game! Imagine that lies were a part of the gimmicks that surrounded the birth of God’s Holy Son!
He killed the innocent for his political ambition, v16
- All male children in Bethlehem and its surroundings who were two years and under were killed in cold blood. In a society where a male child was the future and hope of the family, this action meant destroying a whole generation.
- “Bethlehem” house of bread – house of abundance and merriment, became house of mourning! They did not have Santa Claus, Christmas carols, Christmas rice and chicken, in Bethlehem. They had funeral services instead. It was a dirge in place of carols! THE FIRST CHRISTMAS CAME WITH A BIG PRICE!
- The death of those innocent boys gave a prelude to the mission of the boy that was born that Christmas day – HE WAS BORN SO HE COULD DIE!
Chief priests and Scribes, vs4-6
The religious leaders did not see a star in the born King. They saw a religious opponent. For them it was another denomination coming to town, which they needed to eradicate quickly. Sects and denominationalism are today stopping many from seeing Jesus! The Christmas event should be an evangel to us all.
Joseph, Matthew 1: 18-25
Joseph found himself in a dilemma in a culture where fornication and/or adultery were punishable by outright death. Even though the Angel Gabriel had announced to him what God was doing in the life of his betrothed, Mary, it was a theory he did not fully understand, let alone explain. He had his family, friends, colleagues, neighbours and community to whom he had to explain and defend himself. Think about it, this was the first time a thing like this was happening, that is, a woman getting pregnant by the Holy Spirit. Joseph had no reference point, nothing to draw from as an example, except for the prophecy of the Prophet Isaiah and what Angel Gabriel told him, which would have hardly been understood under the prevailing circumstances. So, no, Joseph did not celebrate Christmas with friends. He was running to Egypt to keep the baby safe. He must have also been keeping his distance from family and friends who had a barrage of questions for him to answer.
Mary, Luke 1: 26-35
The pregnant virgin! What a paradox! Mary was some sort of enigma! She did not understand herself and certainly may not have expected anyone else to understand her. How will this be? (v34), was the question she asked Angel Gabriel when He brought the announcement. How was she going to explain her situation to friends and family? How was she going to face society? How about her life, considering the death penalty that hung over her head had Joseph made the matter public? No, Christmas was not fun for Mary, if you ask me! However, this had to happen in order to make it clear that this Child was like no other. He was Immanuel – God is with us! Therefore, through the intricate maze of power play and politics, Christmas brings God to us!
- The Star is in the sky, it is visible and available to all who are willing to just look up. Christ is for all, Christmas is for all. POLITICS SHOULD BE ACCESSIBLE TO ALL, FOR THE GOOD OF ALL.
- The year 2019 should not be the end of the world, politically. The political class and “Herods” of our day should be mindful of the Day of Accountability.
- The electorate should be able to identify their “Herods” and not give them a chance in 2019! If you do not know those to vote for, you should at least know those not to vote for. Remember that it took just one Herod to threaten the life of the Saviour of the world. One mistake by the electorate in 2019 will translate to one “Herod” who is just enough to threaten the life of the church.
CHRISTMAS IS GOD RULING IN THE HEARTS AND AFFAIRS OF MEN!
Rev. Luke is the Coordinator, ECWA Youth Ministries, ECWA Headquarters, Jos