Third Sunday of Advent

It seems the volume is up on many people’s frustration or anger control. I am hearing lots of views about politics – Brexit – the EU – and, wider still, the global machinations of China, Russia, and the US. Everyone has a view and a villain. People have ‘solutions’ – or at least what they’d like to see happen next – but there is also almost a resignation as people comment that they are ‘just one person’ or this is now in the ‘control’ of the parliamentarians and there is nothing they can do about it.

Christians have always had to negotiate citizenship. It is different around the world and it has been different in the past. There are simply a wide range of parliamentary systems, no precise definition of democracy or one that is universally accepted. There are differing views on and systems of voting. There are different rules and legislation around referenda, rights, policies, appeals, and the like. Christians need to know what applies to them where they live. (And we generally have the ‘default’ that the political system in which we grew up is the ‘best’.)

I don’t know how many people are politically active n society but there is a perception often that where people have the necessities of life – relative safety, law and order, food, home and work – many people are almost apolitical. Knowing civics and citizenship is about being a ‘good neighbour’ to those around us. We see it bluntly in taxation and how Christians (cf. Romans 13) are expected to pay their lawful taxes because it is intended to benefit others. Negotiating citizenship is about recognising that God’s Law – his intentions for human societies – can be understood politically (remember Confirmation and the law as ‘fence’ or ‘curb’ – the first use of the law?) – and then seeing how the laws of the land help reduce chaos and increase the ‘common good’. Negotiating citizenship is meant to remind Christians that this world isn’t our home in the big scheme of things but where we find ourselves we are to be active in serving our neighbours.

In my view this sort of service involves firstly praying for those who have civic authority over us and then being politically active as befits one’s time and talents. No matter the time or the place, Christians need not feel like a leaf in a storm but rather we can stand next to the Lord of Everything, Jesus, and survey the landscape, trying to gauge the future and bring it to the Lord in prayer. This is part of the scene in Revelation 5. (I know it can be tough to believe when there is fractious politics, civic unrest, war, or when we are persecuted.)

Attributed to Karl Barth, the preacher should read the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other. I’ve heard similar sentiments from other Christian traditions. For me, the advice makes sense for preachers but it makes even more sense for those who pray. In praying we bring ours and our neighbours’ needs to God and doing so over time ‘attunes’ us, I think, to seeing things with a confidence that God still works for good whether society makes brilliant or woeful decisions – and that, in turn, guides how we live. Yes, like two Christians on adjoining farms praying for opposites – rain or sunshine – I can imagine Christians bringing differing ‘solutions’ to God for how the UK should proceed but what happens in our regular praying for those with civic authority is that we grow in our trust in God not to abandon us. Then we live out – serve – our citizenship where we believe God leads us. Fascinating being a disciple of Jesus, isn’t it? GS