Before We Sing Silent Night | Sojourners

Before We Sing Silent Night

Advent does not bring good news for President Donald Trump. That’s not due to impeachment, but because of the lectionary.

The scriptures assigned to the church during these days of hopeful waiting are filled with warnings against unjust rulers. This is repeated frequently in the Psalms, in the voice of one crying in the wilderness, and in the prayerful praise offered by Mary. The Magnificat, whose words are sung and prayed hundreds of thousands of times during these days, speak forcefully about the demise of the proud and conceited — and rulers who act like tyrants.

With a focus that often consigns Advent to candle-lighting in a rush to get to Christmas, we miss the important message of this season. Our hope for the One who is born as the Christ, the anointed one of God, means God’s intentions for this world and its people will be fulfilled through the birth of Jesus. And that, in the words of scripture, amounts to bad news for rulers who act like tyrants, neglect the poor, oppress strangers and aliens, and subvert God’s desires for justice and righteousness. This hope for the One who comes runs so deep in the scriptures of Advent because he will make the world right, through the presence of God’s power and love.

Bad rulers are held accountable in the mysterious ways of God. That’s as clear as can be in the words of the Bible, focused especially during these days before Christmas, when candles are meant to be the sign of hope in the midst of so much that seems so wrong in the world.

Impeachment is a pragmatic, political means of accountability. In our present context, it has turned into a political brawl. The likely outcome, namely acquittal in the Republican-controlled Senate, will simply galvanize our nation’s political polarization further. It’s not clear what will be accomplished. Even if President Trump is defeated in 2020, a form of accountability in the electoral process, that is not likely to change Donald Trump. He’ll simply claim he is the victim of some sort of conspiracy and seek to further aggravate his political base. Deep change and healing in our body politic is hard to imagine.

I’m wondering, genuinely this Advent, just how God’s promise to hold unjust, conceited, power-hungry rulers to account actually happens. It often seems the historical evidence isn’t on God’s side. In my wildest of hopes, I wish Donald Trump could hear the message of Advent’s scripture, and respond, even repent.

One thing I am sure of, however: If we don’t listen to these biblical promises, and even worse, if Christians make excuses and decide that Mary really isn’t to be believed, and that we simply must bless this president with our suppliant loyalty, then we push the promises of Advent away. And that’s betraying the hope embedded in this season and dishonoring the baby Jesus.

Before we sing Silent Night, let’s listen to the Psalmist’s description of the just and righteous king, let’s pay heed to Isaiah’s plea to prepare the way of the Lord with righteousness and justice, and let’s believe that the baby in Mary’s womb caused her to proclaim that unjust rulers would be brought down from their thrones and the rich sent away empty. That is part of the message in these days moving toward the holy night.

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