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Christmas and Political Christianity

Christmas is a great paradox. Kierkegaard said that Christmas was absurd—and that’s why we should believe in it.

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God has a funny sense of humor.

I think that the best argument for Christianity is how counterintuitive its seminal story is.

The pagan gods’ myths showed them sitting in thrones of gold, ruling with fire and blood with unimaginable power and strength.

Christmas shows us God as a child. He doesn’t come to the world as a tyrant or a great king, but as a small child in the most absolute poverty. With no place to lay His head, no home, and nothing to keep Him safe. In a forgotten corner of the Empire, within anonymous and coarse people.

There God decides to start his story.

Christmas is a great paradox. Kierkegaard said that Christmas was absurd—and that’s why we should believe in it. God defies our small horizons, even the idea we have of divinity. It’s the story of a poor virgin carrying God’s own son. And that very same God did not want his child to be born in a royal palace but in the poverty of a manger.

And in an even greater paradox, that defenseless child breaks history. As Hans Urs Von Balthasar said, “Christmas is not an event within history but is rather the invasion of time by eternity.” Christmas is not limited to a particular historical moment, but it’s by its very own nature, a rupture of history. The infinite, eternal, all-powerful God bursts into history… As a child crying from the cold.

And the evangelists were well-aware of this paradox. Saint Luke gives a detailed recount of the story of the birth of the Son of God, but then he goes on and establishes his genealogy. Why? Simple. In it, he shows how Jesus comes from David’s lineage. This helpless child, the son of a meek carpenter, comes to the world to rule, not only Israel but the whole world.

Saint Mark makes it clearer at the first sentence of his Gospel, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” The Gospel is the Eu-Angelion, Good News, which was the message that imperial proclaimers would take when the Emperor or one of his grand generals won a battle. And who was the Son of God for the average people? Clearly, Caesar.

And all Gospels point at the fact that there is someone above Caesar. Who is it? The little baby we all have in the nativity in our homes.

So, what’s my point with all this? That, essentially, Christmas shapes up the mission of political Christianity. I won’t discuss deep intellectual debates around integralism or the relationship between state and church. No one wants to read about that on Christmas. But I just want to state a simple truth we all should remember: Just as Christ came to reconcile flesh and spirit, we must reconcile the secular with the spiritual.

In Christmas, our Lord takes the frailty of our flesh to deify it, or, as the beautiful adage by the Church Fathers says, “God became man so that man might become God”. We must take the frailty and conflictivity and innermost tension of the secular to elevate it to the spiritual, to turn it into Imago Dei.

And how do we achieve that? For Cardinal Jean Daniélou in Prayer as a Political Problem, it is in a fuller understanding of politics, as ensuring the conditions to attain material, fraternal, and spiritual plenitude. 

Daniélou wrote this just three years before May 68, and saw how modern society moved toward a direction where attaining the spiritual Good was nearly impossible for the average folk. The world built a culture where man only looks at himself. The same perversion of Christmas as an empty and consumerist sacrament of postmodernity is a great example.

Here, Daniélou is not making a defense of theocracy, but he is telling us to forget that men can divorce the spiritual and temporal spheres and think anything good will come out of it. The enemies of the spiritual, liberals first, marxists later, and postmoderns today, throw schizophrenic attacks against any potential influence of religion in politics because they understand that their regime of supposed neutrality will not survive in a world that learns to see with eyes filled with faith.

A total separation between both spheres is impossible, it is disintegrating men and reducing politics to something merely procedural. Where there is personal Christianity, there must be social Christianity. Christianity always implying Christendom. This is not a confusion between spiritual and temporal authorities, but acknowledging that religion, and, in the West, particularly Christianity, has a role in the public space and is one of the pillars of civilization.

We Christians don’t only have the right, but the duty to seek civilizatory conditions that promote the development of our faith, understanding it as an integral part of the human person. It’s a blatant lie that faith is best kept private. Faith is best when it’s public and faithful voices are heard loud and clear in the public sphere to defend what Christianity has defended for 2000 years: the dignity of the human person and, especially, the dignity of those in physical and spiritual peripheries. The silent cataclysm of Christmas is there to remind us of this.

Neutrality in front of the big questions of our existence is an enormous fallacy. Paraphrasing G.K. Chesterton, at last, all arguments are theological arguments. We cannot avoid taking a position against the most profound questions of one’s existence, nor private, nor publicly. We’d be lying to ourselves saying there’s a supposed neutral public space where curiously courts decide over the ulterior meaning of existence.

No one should abandon their Christian convictions in the public sphere. In fact, the struggle mustn’t be just asking for our voices to be respected, but to transform the world from within. The struggle is not to participate in the so-called “liberal neutral space.” Christ calls us to reconcile the right order between the spiritual and secular. We cannot be afraid to be salt, light, and leaven.

Our culture has downgraded Christmas to a child’s story with tender songs and gifts. It is part of our domesticated cultural establishment. But Christmas is more than that. It’s the birth of a child that will inherit the Throne of David (Lc 1:32), which announces the start of a revolution in its fullest sense: the rupture between the temporal and the eternal to reconcile the temporal and the eternal. And it that manger in a forgotten land, we discover the greatest paradox: God burst into history, not to show us His power, but to give us His love. Our task is to reflect it.

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