A Pivot Toward the Star
We will have much to be thankful for when Thanksgiving rolls around this year. Not that we don’t have plenty of reasons to be grateful already, but in this, the ugliest election year most of us have ever endured, we have been “blessed” with myriad more reasons than usual.
First and foremost, we will be thankful that it’s finally over—that the very public recitations of the flaws of this candidate or that candidate will have abated (hopefully), allowing our government to turn in earnest to those tasks for which it was designed. Secondly, we will be thankful that despite all the dire warnings that electing one or the other candidate would result in the end of life as we know it will have proven to be exactly what thinking citizens knew them to be all along—hyperbolic political marketing (again, hopefully).
As I write these words, of course, I can’t actually know who will win the presidential election. Each major candidate came to us burdened with a litany of human frailties. Actually, it occurs to me that especially in light of how political campaigns are run these days, each should be credited with at least some amount of courage simply for his or her willingness to have those flaws so publicly, thoroughly, and viciously laid bare.
What I can and do know is that we will have elected a person who, like each of us, is imperfect. But I also know that the fate of our nation does not turn solely on the imperfections of the new occupant of the White House—or on those of any nation’s political leader, for that matter. It does not have to be a foregone conclusion that our national character is defined by the persons we elect as our leaders. The mandates of our Christian faith today are no different than they were a month, or a decade, or two millennia ago. It is all the more important to remember that in the face of all the challenges before us, we are not powerless to effect change, even apart from those whom we’ve elected to lead us.
As we enter this season of Advent, we should turn from a posture of thanksgiving for the blessings we’ve received to one filled with the expectation and hope as we await the greatest blessing of all. The promise of peace that came to us in the form of an infant—the lessons in compassion, humility, and love that that infant patiently sowed as he grew in strength and stature toward his triumph over the cross—these are what we will be hungering for and anticipating this Advent, perhaps more than ever before.
Regardless of who our new president is, it seems clear even now that it will be imperative that we initiate intentional, genuine efforts toward the kind of healing and reconciliation that our faith makes possible before we can ever claim to be “great” as a country (though I question whether aspiring to greatness is even a worthy goal for Christians). At any rate, we are, I think, better than what we have become. After a campaign characterized primarily by words of divisiveness, racism, deceit, exclusion, and an astonishing absence of respect and concern not only for the least among us, but even for those we would normally consider our peers, we are desperately in need of salvation. Fortunately, the promise of Advent is that we have been shown the way there. Once again, Jesus is coming at a time when we most need him.
As I see it, we are in exactly the kind of moment for which Jesus was born to walk among us. While even Christians have disagreed as to who is the better person to lead our nation, once the contest has been decided, surely we will agree that the path of rancor and self-absorption we’ve wandered these last several months is not the path he would have walked. On the contrary, through his life and teaching, we know that to model unqualified love, to repent and to forgive, and to open our arms to those who have been oppressed, forgotten, abused, or excluded is the path to the Kingdom—a place of peace.
That’s not an easy path, of course. The Herods of our day, threatened by the good news that love will overcome hate, that humility is stronger than hubris, and that those considered last will in fact become first will seek to silence us. We will be met with complaints that we’re not being “realistic” about the many dangers in our world. And like many of Jesus’ contemporaries, there will be those who persist in their disbelief that a gentle child can deliver us from the oppression that is egoism, fear, and the thirst for retribution. But by God’s grace they’ll all be mistaken and misguided.
Let us make this Christmas season one of genuine optimism concerning our future. Let us reject the discourse and practice of division, suspicion, incivility, prejudice, and fear, and embrace the truth that, like the good news born in a barn so many centuries ago, love is the inexhaustible fuel of miracles. We’ve heard precious little about that over the last several months. Let us pivot toward the star that heralds our hope; let us now go, outside where Jesus is; let us go and tell it on the mountain.
With the November/December issue of The Cumberland Presbyterian, we are not only winding up another volume of faithful service to the Cumberland Presbyterian Church (number 188, to be precise), but we’re beginning a rollout of some updated layout and design features. You’ll note a fresh new cover design for this issue, and over the coming months, you’ll find some changes to the layout and design of the content pages. We’re excited about these changes, and hope our readers will appreciate a fresh new look for the denomination’s namesake publication. Please check it out and let us know what you think!