Timothy McNinch is a doctoral candidate in Hebrew Bible at Emory University in Atlanta, GA. He is an editor for the “Politics of Scripture” blog on the Political Theology Network, and co-hosts “First Reading: the Old Testament Lectionary Podcast” (firstreadingpodcast.com).
For all our show of humility, Christians have capitalized on the doctrine of election, distorting it to create a very real power differential between ourselves and the world beyond Christianity, at home and abroad. In an ironic twist, we have become the builders who are rejecting precious stones.
This Advent, we are in desperate need of both prophetic voices and prophetic imaginations. Voices to put our politicians in their place and imaginations to help us recognize the shape of God’s hesed in the midst of personal and global trauma.
When we read of God enthroned as the great king, perhaps we can imagine a system of governance where our political rivals are not beaten into submission, but are disarmed by love; where those who are different from us are respected, listened to, learned from; where brute force is neutralized by a refusal to retaliate and is resisted through active non-violence. Toward this end, God is indeed the great leader, the one who models “power under” for all of us.
We need to recognize that whether we like it or not, the global community is in this crisis together. Our survival depends on learning to share the abundance we have—our natural and financial resources, as well as scientific expertise and creativity—in the fight to combat climate change.
Matthew’s careful quotation of Isaiah 60 urges us to perceive that the birth of the poor, brown boy in a back corner of the Roman empire was the dawning of God’s glory upon humanity. Let us, then, celebrate—not with fear and self-preservation, but with confident investment in human flourishing.
The innate ambiguity of the political themes raised by this week’s first lectionary text should lead us to hold together both our desire for cohesion as the “people of God” and that same desire’s potential for exclusion—exclusion that we must diligently recognize and actively hold in check.