Editor’s Note: This is the second of a two-part article by Donnell Wyche on the topic of the Christian mandate to be politically engaged. You can read Part 1 here.
In Part 1 of this series, I argued that God’s incarnational choice to enter the world the way Jesus did was an act of nonviolent civil disobedience, and it was illegal. What did I mean by this?
When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. In Bethlehem in Judea.
What did the powers want to do when they discovered that a king was being born? They ordered all the males in the region be murdered because there was already a king in the region; another one was not wanted and certainly not needed. Jesus’ birth in a humble stable, into poverty, into a refugee family, into an oppressed region of a vicious empire, was political. This political decision made Jesus an “illegal.” Herod and all of the ruling powers in Jerusalem understood that God’s incarnation meant a threat to their rule, reign, power, and wealth. And Herod acted with the power of empire to remove his rival. Jesus' birth in a humble stable, into poverty, into a refugee family, into an oppressed region of a vicious empire, was political. Click To Tweet
When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.
Herod’s response to the announcement of the birth of Christ is one of the strongest arguments for the incarnation being a political action. The decision of God to be born a migrant into poverty under occupation was a rejection of power, control, dominance. Without the political impact of the incarnation, Herod would not have acted to protect his political power and access. (And similarly, when Pontius Pilate offers to release Jesus, the people made a political decision to demand Jesus’ crucifixion because his life was a political threat.)
Church, Get Political
As the church faces the challenges of being incarnational in our highly divisive world, our best witness today is to get political. We don’t need overt, grand gestures. We do need to get close enough to understand the suffering of those who are held in bondage in order to see, hear, and be taught by the Holy Spirit how to respond. This is a way that we humanize the pain of the oppressed. This is how we participate in the incarnation—our participation in reordering the world—we get proximate and show up in the deep places of pain in our world. This is how we participate in the incarnation—our participation in reordering the world—we get proximate and show up in the deep places of pain in our world. Click To Tweet
Jesus says, “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house (Mt 5:14-15). The significance of the parable of light and its purpose and intention is clear. Jesus offers two images of light and makes the obvious point that the purpose of this light is to penetrate the darkness, and therefore, this light should not be hidden, which is a contrast to those of us who believe that the best Christian witness is to withdraw from the culture and society.
God’s presence as identified as light in Isaiah 2:2-5 and Isaiah 49:6 are the backdrops for Jesus’ words, because the image of a city on a hill is an invitation, a call to hope for those in the darkness. The light of God’s salvation, presence, justice, and peace will draw those who are lonely, dispossessed, oppressed, marginalized, and underfoot. It is a beacon for those who are asking, “Where is God in the midst of my hardship, my misery, my pain, and my suffering?”
Living Morally Rigorous Lives
Though our deeds do not save us, we are to let our light shine through our deeds. This work we are called to do, especially in service for others, reveals who we are, who we follow, and what we believe. We all have to contend with the notion that Jesus is not focused solely on reforming our inner attitudes or the state of our human hearts, but that he is also concerned with how we act, behave, and operate within the world—socially, economically, and politically. What counts with God and with each other is not opportunities, or vision, but incarnation: the ways we bring to life what we say, what we believe. What carries power and promise in the world and generates conviction, courage, and transformation are the concrete actions and steps we take to neighbor and build community. Jesus is not focused solely on reforming our inner attitudes or the state of our human hearts, but that he is also concerned with how we act, behave, and operate within the world—socially, economically, and politically. Click To Tweet
Jesus is inviting us to live morally rigorous lives that are clearly distinctive from the world around us. The incarnation was not an interruption, but a continuation. God came to live with us in Galilee, he endured the same occupation, the same poverty, the same crushing rule of empire, and yet, he revealed a way for us to live in the world. Filled with the Holy Spirit, we announce and demonstrate God’s liberating work in the world through our active political engagement and through our suffering, repentance, reordering, and peace-making as we show up in the places of deep pain in our communities announcing good news, “God is here.”