The elections are past — and candidates for 2020 have already begun raising their money. On behalf of the Incarnation, I want to connect religion and politics.
We American Christians live in possibly the freest country in the world. To savor that freedom we often overlook what we can do is wake up. We can follow the Advent instructions to wake up. We can wake up and see how long women and slaves couldn’t vote. We can look at this season in Burma or Iraq or China or even Britain. We get to vote. How can we be grateful for that chance? By waking up to it and not just on the Fourth of July, but also in the great season of the Incarnation.
Everybody loves the movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life.” It is a non-cynical exploration of the power of ordinary people to use their power to help each other. It is happiness in neighborliness. It is an incarnation of democracy in a film, the kind that very few throw away, even when the garage sale gets most of the other stuff they’ve watched for years.
Mary and Joseph may have found room in a manger but fewer and fewer people do. Contrary to the movie, the banks haven’t met their angel yet. What is a bank? It is a place where every time you toss them your money, they touch it and charge you for touching it. Or at least that is what they tried in the wonderful life movie. They did try and they did fail.
The biggest trouble I ever got in was preaching about taxation at Christmas. It was misunderstood as political, even though Mary and Joseph were on a voyage to be taxed.
I don’t think the Christmas story is “political.” Instead, the Incarnation imagines a different story about power and about the economy and about the small and about love. That is political plus, not just political. It surely doesn’t “hate” banks, but it does want to make sure small people don’t get hurt by them. It surely doesn’t “hate” taxation but surely wants us to know that nothing, including taxation, is outside of the power of the almighty.
Jesus came down to earth to unite flesh and spirit, time and eternity, body and soul, earth and heaven. Nothing can be outside the power of God, according to the God who came up with the Incarnation as a great divine intervention into human lives. That means a positive relationship with virtuous politics and democracy. We don’t leave them alone so much as engage them with spirit, as spirit and for spirit.
Surely the constitution was right when it talked about separating church and state. That separation is good because otherwise domination could occur. The separation does not mean that Christians have no relationship to the state, just that it is regulated. When we awake in gratitude for the franchise, we unite with the spirit of politics and the politics of the spirit. We go to be taxed with joy. We bank with justice in mind.
I love the neighbors in the movie. They loved each other. They didn’t just borrow a cup of sugar every now and then from each other. They realized that their finances were as connected as their sweets. When we wake up, we won’t walk around wondering who our neighbor is. We will know who our neighbor is. We will follow the incarnate Jesus who refused to have any enemies. We will stop using the word “they” so much. And we will set our alarm clock for early every day to savor the democracy we love.