Last Saturday Tony Campolo and I engaged in a debate at a Seventh Day Adventist conference here in Orlando. Years ago Tony and I regularly debated on a syndicated television program out of New York called Hashing It Out. Tony’s crazy political views haven’t changed…nor have mine. Our love for each other hasn’t changed either. Both of us are fairly well informed politically and theologically, we both have a glib tongue and tell good stories, and we laugh with more than yell at each other. These debates (and we’ve done a lot of them) are often entertaining and informative. I trust this one was too.
Tony and I don’t agree on much…but we both love Jesus. We are in absolute agreement about him. Because we do we take Jesus so seriously, we take politics far less seriously.
When you read this Christmas will be fast approaching. Usually, at this time of the year, I’m in a perpetual state of irritation over Christmas stuff. It’s only October and they already have artificial Christmas trees for sale and are playing Christmas music in the mall. It’s everywhere and you can’t get away from it. Each year I somehow manage to do an okay job of hiding my irritation in an effort to not ruin Christmas for everybody else (an amazing demonstration of discipline, I might say). I hold on until the Christmas Eve service at our church (my favorite time of worship the whole year). Then I can be still, remember Jesus, and be glad.
Because we do we take Jesus so seriously, we take politics far less seriously.
But this year I’m not irritated or irritable at all. In fact, as I walk through the mall, look at the garish Christmas decorations, pass bored Santas with bored children on their laps, and listen to “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” for the ten thousandth time, I’ll smile and say to myself (maybe even out loud), “Bring it on!”
Steve, it’s senility!
No, it isn’t. It’s relief.
I’m so tired of all the politics, division, hatred, charges and lies, self-righteousness and self-promotion, that even the red-nosed reindeer and Santa coming to town will be a welcome and pleasant change. And just so you know, I’m tired and ashamed that I’ve been caught up in it too.
People often ask Tony or me how we can be so civil when the issues are so very important—“You guys should be fighting hard for the truth and weeping over the state of the nation…not making jokes.” We both take politics seriously, but do you know why we laugh so much and love each other so much?
Because of Christmas!
We have both read, profoundly believe, and experienced what the writer of Hebrews said at the beginning of his book (Hebrews 1:1-3): “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the
heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high…”
That means, of course, empires come and go, presidents are elected or rejected, armies march, politicians pontificate and judges judge, and (as Shakespeare wrote) it’s “much ado about nothing.” Well, maybe not “nothing,” but certainly not as important as kings, presidents, politicians and judges think. The Psalmist gets it (Psalm 2:1-2, 4): “Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against his anointed.” And then the Psalmist allows us to see behind the veil the reality we should never forget: “He who sits in the heavens laughs.”
It’s the laughter of Christmas.
My relief isn’t just from the noise of the election; it’s the relief knowing the central fact of the universe. “The Word was with God, and the Word was God….All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men….And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us…full of grace and truth” (John 1:1-4, 14).
Do you remember how C.S. Lewis described Narnia under the spell of the White Witch? Narnia was cold and gray all the time, and Lewis wrote that it was “always winter and never Christmas.” That’s what the last few months have felt like to me. It’s been a perpetual winter…and no Christmas.
Don’t forget Christmas.
Christmas is about light shining into the darkness and giving hope to people who live there (“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it”). It’s about sinners finding forgiveness (“You shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins”). It’s about unlovely folks being loved beyond their wildest dreams (“We love because he first loved us”). It’s about a God who’s different than anyone imagined (“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us…full of grace and truth”). It’s about people who fear punishment and are scared to death (“For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace”). And it’s about people who have given up trying to live by God’s rules (“For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ”).
I wish I knew a way to tell people what I just wrote in a way they would understand. It would transform the election process and everything else. I wish I could explain Christmas to Black Lives Matter, Blue Lives Matter, All Lives Matter, Democrats, Republicans, liberals, conservatives, pharisees, preachers, churches and denominational folks protecting their turf. We really would “wag more, bark less.” The hungry would get fed, the homeless welcomed, and the naked clothed.
In my mind’s eye, I can imagine Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump in a debate saying, “Okay now you know the truth. We both lie a lot. We’re both very needy, seriously flawed, and sinful. You are too! Now let’s talk about our country and our problems.”
Uh…sorry…I drifted off there and took a nap. I was dreaming. Old people do that sometimes.
What was I saying before I drifted off? Oh, I remember. In fact, let me stand aside and allow the Apostle John to say it: “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us—that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us;…with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:1-3).
I’m not going insane. I still think Tony is wrong. I still carry a gun and think Edmund Burke hung the moon. My economics are still capitalist. I still think that John Maynard Keynes was a twit. Not only that, I still think that national borders should be clear, terrorists should be eliminated as efficiently as possible, and Jesus is a Republican.
But it’s Christmas.
Everything else is small stuff.
Jesus told me to tell you “Merry Christmas”…no matter who won the election.