In the wake of this year’s presidential election, I think most of us in this country are ready for some Christmas cheer to liven our spirits as we count down the days to Donald Trump’s inauguration. But before we rush to forget our collective sorrows in the ritual consumption of the holiday season, I think we would do well to remember that Christmas is still a few weeks away, and we are just now entering the Christian liturgical season of Advent. Although today it is drowned out by the good cheer marketed by corporations looking out for their bottom line, we should not forget that Advent is primarily a time for somber reflection in anticipation of the birth of Christ. And I think there is no better time for an honest evaluation of the seemingly hopeless nature of our political situation.

Now I know many of you may not share the Christian faith that informs my reflections here.  But I do hope that what I have to say about what this time of year means to me may provide you with some degree of hope in light of the present political circumstances.

Christ’s Advent is the fulfillment of centuries of Messianic expectations of the nation of Israel, which remained at the hands of foreign oppressors through much of its history. God promised his people that he would send a Messiah to sit on the throne of David and to conquer their enemies. Many of these promises come out of the Book of Isaiah, which was written at a time of great political turmoil. King Ahaz had formed an alliance with the Assyrians to protect Judah against attack, but because he did not trust in God to deliver them, that alliance would lead to years of Assyrian domination.

It was in this context that Isaiah wrote the words of prophecy that form a common backdrop to Advent reflections: “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6). In the face of imminent political oppression, this promise gave Israel the hope of a ruler who would not only conquer its enemies, but would also establish an everlasting Kingdom founded with “justice and righteousness.”  The message of Advent is that this king has come and that he arrived in the unexpected form of the infant Jesus.  

The good news for us is that with the coming of Christ, the promise of deliverance God made to Israel is applied to all of humanity which yearns for liberation from the oppression of sin and death. Christians believe that we are now living in the time between Christ’s first coming, when he conquered death through his resurrection and established his eternal Kingdom, and his second coming which will bring that Kingdom to full fruition on earth. In the meantime we live under the authority of rulers on earth while still bowing to Christ the King, whose first coming we celebrate and whose second coming we await in eager anticipation. All political activity exists within this framework, in this in-between time that the season of Advent represents.

Now what has any of this to do with our own political situation? I suggest that these Advent reflections should give us a hopeful outlook on all the uncertainties and political troubles of our time. President-elect Donald J. Trump is just another of a long line of rulers to assume power during this time of waiting for the fulfillment of God’s promised Kingdom. But the important lesson of Advent is that power does not belong to him, nor does it belong to the political structures that he now has authority over. Trump may turn out to be a good or a bad ruler, but his power is no more than temporary in light of the Advent promise of the establishment of Christ’s Kingdom.

This is the hope that I wish to inject into some of our more depressing political conversations.  Now, I obviously don’t expect everyone to share my faith in Jesus Christ, but I do hope that there is still something very valuable to be gained from these reflections. It is easy to get caught up in the excitement of political happenings and forget that there are things that lie far beyond the horizons of our recurring election cycles. These lasting things should give us grounds for hope by allowing us to see all of our troubles within a much more comprehensive framework. For me, it is my faith in Christ’s Advent and in the coming of his Kingdom that allows me to set my sights beyond the uncertainties of our political moment.