Political Contrast

by Greg Alms

There is a deep shadow that lays across the first lines of Luke chapter 2, and it is a political one. Caesar Augustus, the emperor of Rome, the most powerful man in the world, opens the scene by commanding the entire world. Everyone must be registered. That is a politician with power. He casts a long shadow.

Politics is still that way. Elections and laws and policies and cable news and presidents flow on in a never-ending attention-grabbing stream. In 2016, we were fixated on the political process. It was a “critical election” for all sides. It seemed and still seems so important. In many ways, it is. The political process has enormous power and can affect our lives and the Church in profound ways. It can cast a long shadow.

Smaller things

But Luke’s narrative is written to focus our attention on smaller things. From the Roman colossus Caesar, the spotlight shifts to Joseph and Mary, an ordinary couple, obeying the imperial directive and scurrying to Bethlehem. There is a frantic arrival. There is a baby born in a cattle stall. The contrast with the great Augustus could not be greater: the emperor with all power versus the infant with nothing.

But Luke has set us up and the politician everyone notices turns out to be the least important part of the story. For the sky soon opens and angels fall out of heaven, and they are not pointing to Rome or sending out tweets about Caesar. They are singing to shepherds in the dark and hurrying them towards the baby in a feeding trough. It turns out that what is important in this story is what is smallest. The baby no one knows is far more significant than the politician.

He is far more important to each of us for that baby is none other than God made flesh, the Savior of the world, the one who has come to save His people from their sins (Matt. 1:21). No emperor or president can ever hope to do that. But He is more important in history as well. Only a few people still remember Caesar Augustus. Jesus Christ remade the shape of Western civilization. His appearance on the stage of human affairs changed everything and continues to reshape the face of the world even today, not by setting up kingdoms or nations but with the humble stuff of preaching and Sacraments and Christian lives of witness to the good news that the Son of God has come, suffered, died and rose and lives today to forgive sins.

We do well in the feverish atmosphere of politics today to hear Luke chapter 2 again. That tiny baby is the important one. When it comes to politics, Christians do not withdraw completely like some or invest our whole selves like others. We do not throw up our hands in ultimate victory or in despair. We engage and stand up for what is right. But Luke teaches us to do so with a quiet trust in someone who is not a politician. We go forward with confidence that the one in the manger is the one with true power. He is the one who truly “rules the world with truth and grace” (LSB 387). 

The Rev. Paul Gregory Alms is pastor of Redeemer Lutheran Church, Catawba, N.C. 

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10 Responses to Political Contrast

  1. John J Flanagan January 17, 2017 at 1:36 pm #

    I have often heard people say we should not mix religion and politics, and some in the church scoff at the idea of Christian involvement, with the exception of casting our votes as responsible citizens. I find I agree with the notion that the Gospel is our first priority, and that we must live faithfully as followers of Christ and not be exceedingly consumed with politics. However, politics and religion often meet at the crossroads of our lives, and we cannot avoid paying attention to the manner in which faith influences our moral and spiritual views.
    If a Christian takes a neutral or supportive position with respect to their country’s laws regarding abortion, for example, and expediently supports political parties and politicians who favor abortion, including late term, for any reason, then the Christian citizen is culpable and guilty of enabling evil to persist. The unborn, inconvenient and unwanted child made in God’s image has been determined to be worthy of death, and the Christian who supports this political and inhuman act is no better than the practitioners of infanticide.
    Yet, many Christians who are pro-choice still feel they are good Christians in their hearts. It is essentially living a lie. In my view, no Christian should support abortion or politicians who advocate for it.

  2. Evelyn Konig January 17, 2017 at 9:17 pm #

    As Christians we are called to fight for the least of these and defend the weak. I personally don’t want politics in worship but as Christians we have to let the gospel be heard out in our community through different forums. Some call abortion a political issue. As a Christian it is a spiritual issue, and even so a human rights issue. Our silence kills. We are no better than those who promote abortion rights. I think the question is, how far do you take it?
    My answer is, read the Bible! It’s our guide.

    • February 7, 2017 at 9:06 am #

      I agree completely, Eveyln.

  3. Rev. David Paape January 18, 2017 at 8:32 am #

    Well said, John, Evelyn and Pastor Alms. May the Lord open our eyes and grant us the boldness and the compassion to heed His clear Word:
    Rescue those who are being taken away to death; hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter. If you say, “Behold, we did not know this,” does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? – Proverbs 24:11-12 (ESV)

  4. Sean January 25, 2017 at 10:18 am #

    From a historical perspective, it is a very new development to try to separate politics from faith. In my response I distinguish between faith and the Church. I do not feel that the Church should be the temporal authority. The biggest failures of the Church have been when the Church has tried to be the temporal government authority. We don’t do that well because we end up getting away from preaching the gospel. Rather the church needs to be over and above the temporal authority with the freedom to hold us to the law and gospel without being entangled in the messiness that is the sinful world we live in. That being said, political life, law, etc., has always involved an element of faith and morals. Moses certainly made no distinction between civic life and living out God’s law. In Jesus day, there was no distinction between the law, and living in league with God’s word. And when you really think about what the law is, it only reaffirms that our faith is inextricably linked to our civic life. The law is nothing more than formally encoding a minimum standard of morality across society. So to remove the element of faith from which our morality and values are derived from our civic life is impossible from that standpoint. That being said, we recognize that this is a sinful world, and while we as Christians are called to have a voice to be prophets or proclaimers of God’s word, our hope transcends political leaders, parties, etc. Our hope resides in the Christ who is and will bring true justice and righteousness to the world.

    • February 7, 2017 at 9:08 am #

      Thank you for this response. Spot-on.

  5. Bernie Schaeffer January 29, 2017 at 5:47 pm #

    In the abortion issue Missouri Synod Lutherans seemed to have found their “comfort zone” to the exclusion of numerous other critical social problems of our day, about which they all too often fail to speak up. In the “comfort zone” is not where Jesus spent his ministry nor is it where I think he wanted us to be. He would be extremely disappointed!

  6. Carl Vehse February 1, 2017 at 11:08 am #

    It would be helpful if more Lutherans would realize that the U.S. President, Congress, or the SCOTUS are NOT to be equated with “Caesar Augustus.” They are only elected or appointed representatives within our “form of government.”

    “We, the People” are both the government and the governed, as we clearly wrote or acknowledge in the Preamble to the Constitution of the United States of America:

    “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

    • February 7, 2017 at 9:09 am #

      And we the people object to laws and decrees that hurt the poor and vulnerable.

  7. John Weinbach February 2, 2017 at 3:47 pm #

    Ever since world war II, Lutherans have been among the biggest enablers of refugee resettlement in our country. Where is our outrage today when thousands are dying in refugee camps. Meanwhile, by the stroke of a pen, our President chooses to cut them off from an opportunity to flourish in our country as our ancestors did.

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