On December 17th, 2019, Bethel Church prayed for a toddler to rise from the dead. The next day, December 18th, 2019, President Trump was impeached. Do these two events have anything in common? Not really.
Except that they happened during the 12 Days of Christmas. And they’ve incited separate but equally polar reactions among American evangelicals.
This holiday season, if you love Jesus, you can argue with another Christian about how Jesus would define morality in American politics. Or, if you prefer, you can debate faith healing and the sovereignty of God. And since it’s happening exclusively online, it’s kinda hard not to read along:
“Well Fred, it’s clear that you support religious oppression and murdering the unborn.”
“Watch out Doug, your lie-cheat-steal, bully-oppress-abuse, ‘morals’ are showing.”
“Frankly Susan, if God cared to be THAT sovereign He’d stop you from using someone’s tragedy to promote your toxic theology.”
“Radical faith offends the unbelieving heart, Donna.”
If I was fast enough to fire off a saucy one-liner I probably would have already. Unfortunately, my brain is drowning in Christmas carols, so all I can do is imagine a slideshow of snarky Christian v Christian comment threads, only they’re set to the loftiest Christmas anthems:
“…The thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices, for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn…”
“…Mary did you know that your baby boy is Lord of all creation? Mary did you know that your baby boy would one day rule the nations…”
“…Remember Christ our Savior was born on Christmas Day, to save us all from Satan’s power when we were gone astray…”
“…Peace on earth, good will to men…”
All that anticipation. All that promise that Jesus’ arrival is the shift humanity has been longing for. The contrast makes me grin. It’s easy to remember the big picture in theory – like how the world has been suffering, how sin has been winning for far too long, how our own minds can be so quickly darkened by fear and pride, how Jesus’ arrival establishes a new Kingdom that isn’t threatened by death or earthly power…
But when the death of an innocent baby leaves our stomachs curdled with grief and longing, or when the impeachment of an American President stirs our most visceral convictions about right and wrong – it’s almost impossible to remember that the message of the incarnation is that this short-term chaos is not the Kingdom that Jesus has invited us to invest our hopes in. When I forget that, and I often do, it’s easy for me to speak sharply to other Christians because it feels like I’ve got a dog in the fight. After all, I’m aligning myself with God’s perspective and they should be too, right?
Listen. This is not a shame-on-us piece. It’s the opposite. The miracle of God-made-flesh is that a love so magnificent has obliterated our shame; a Kingdom so irresistible has comes to us again and again and again – as many times as we have forgotten which Kingdom we belong to and why.
Sometimes I wonder if the reason we Christians speak unkindly to each other is because we still carry the remnants of our own shame without meaning to. I still feel it if someone says I should be ashamed of myself for my political or theological convictions; and I’m always inclined to fling that shame back in equal or greater measure.
But when my spirit is connected to the incarnation – to Jesus’ coming to make all things new – myself included, all that shame residue falls away, I lose the impulse to fire back at my fellow Christians, and I get to live inside of the safety of His eternal Kingdom – even when the world around me is uncertain and out of alignment.
So this Christmas, when I sing about baby Jesus in a manger, I’m going to try to let the love of God come reach me – wiping out my shame for the thousandth time, allowing me to show His kindness to those who have not yet learned how to let go of their own shame.
Merry Christmas. There’s no more shame on you.