I was recently talking with a family member who’s traveling to Europe soon when the 2016 election came up.
“What should I say if the locals mention Donald Trump?” she asked me.
For my relative and most Americans, of course, leaving the States post-election is an empty threat, as the process of moving to another country is complicated enough that very few of us make good on those pre-election threats.
And though the political junkie in me kind of wonders what would happen if there really was a mass exodus, on another level I’m happy most Americans don’t take the election seriously enough to actually move to Canada.
Because if the outcome of an election really is that worrisome, we’re giving politics way too much credit.
Now, I care about the election, too. I don’t think much will change, but do I care. I have strong political views, and I’ve even done my fair share of campaigning for a presidential candidate I deeply believed would make a real difference for our country.
In other words, I’m not apathetic, nor am I advocating political apathy.
But if the wrong guy winning next November seems like it’s the end of the world—if we’re pinning our hopes for our lives, our families, and our country on any politician—then we have bigger problems than the next occupant of the Oval Office.
As theologian Peter Enns remarked during the 2012 campaign, “[t]here is a huge difference between saying, ‘That person would make a horrible president for the following reasons,’ and ‘If he is elected, I just don’t know what I will do, where I will go—how we can carry on.’”
For any American—well, suffice it to say that even if your guy wins, disappointment is pretty much guaranteed (heck, just ask “Obama Girl”).
But for Christians like me in particular, placing too much faith in politics can mean losing sight of the actual source of our security, joy, and hope—which is never affected by election outcomes.
As much as campaign hype might make us think otherwise, politics is not the hope of the world: No political party can make everything right, and no candidate can truly assuage our fears and fix our problems.
No, the “hope of the world lies exclusively in Jesus Christ and the willingness of his people to partner with him in bringing about God’s will ‘on earth as it is in heaven’ by imitating him.”
This truth feels especially timely because it isn’t just election season right now. It’s also Christmas season. And of the two, Christmas matters much, much more.
Perhaps my favorite Christmas carol is “O Holy Night,” because it captures the radical, revolutionary side of Christmas we can too easily forget:
O holy night! The stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of our dear Savior’s birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
Truly He taught us to love one another;
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother;
And in His name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
Let all within us praise His holy name.
This song isn’t about a nice, jolly holiday with a fat man and a baby.
It’s an announcement that the whole world has been turned upside down—that life can be difficult and scary and terrible now, but we can be confident that it won’t always be that way.
Politicians often try to make the same announcement, usually with “Vote for me to make it happen!” tacked onto the end. They may be well-meaning, but ultimately they’re selling a product they can’t deliver.
The good news is that product has already been delivered.
It showed up two thousand years ago with a couple of poor, dirty, frightened kids in a world just as weary and screwed up as our own. It showed up as far from the glitz of power and politics as possible.
And it showed up with a thrill of hope that no matter what happens on any Election Day, on Christmas there always breaks a new and glorious morn.