As student pastors, it’s important to model compassionate but critical civic engagement. YouTube-pundits and partisan media are catechizing our teenagers toward vitriolic, ungenerous, no-benefit-of-the-doubt monologues. Depending on which channel you watch, secular conservatism shouts catcalls of “soy boy,” “SJWs” and “snowflake” at secular liberalism as it megaphones back “bigot,” “intolerant,” and “hateful.” Pastors, the kingdom of God demands we disciple its citizens better than the partisans of this one. The left and right are grooming next generation politicos as you read. We must train our students to see and do politics in light of God’s Kingdom, both present and future.
We can be skittish here. It’s tricky business. It’s easy to fall into partisan booby-traps. But we can’t forget that Jesus modeled civic engagement with the religious elites (who also happened to be the political elites) when he talked about taxes (Matt 17:24-27). Neither can we forget that Paul was making a religious statement and a political one when he announced Jesus was “Lord,” appropriating Emperor Caesar’s title. Nor can we forget that Paul was making both a religious and an economic statement in Ephesus as he called for the destruction of idols (Acts 18:21-40). The gospel has always carried political implications since heaven is not a place of disembodied spirits but a kingdom God establishes on the earth.
Heaven will have politics all its own. It will not be the politics of YouTube, Fox News, CNN, or whatever administration occupies the White House. It is a governance we have seen barely begun in Jesus, but longingly expect to see established when Heaven descends. It is our duty as student pastors to teach our teenagers to treat the politics of already and now, in light of the politics yet to come.
I don’t have magic bullets here. But in Advent we have the heart, if not the method. Advent announces “Jesus is coming!” – as believers on this side of the cross, we look forward to the day Jesus reigns forever. Not just because we’re told it’s going to be awesome but because we see the incompleteness of this world and we long for restoration. We see families incomplete through divorce and weep for reunification. We see porn’s kingdom rip intimacy from pleasure and wish our young men saw visions of Jesus’ unadulterated beauty. We see the evil of this world’s governments and cry for God’s justice. We see the misery of this world and painfully wait for mercy. Advent recognizes that it is impossible for the kingdoms of this world to give us what’s promised only under Jesus’ rule.
I see evidence of this in the incompleteness of America’s kingdom. Just look at the caravans at our border. The caravan needs mercy. Guatemalans, El Salvadorans, and Hondurans do not deserve the violence, corruption, and evil that gangs and governments have rained on them. Mothers and babies need help. But America also has a responsibility to protect its own. It can’t allow evil men an opportunity to harm our children – national security is at stake! Besides, haven’t many already tried to illegally immigrate? Don’t the laws of the land demand a justice that’s incompatible with mercy?
The left seems to gloss real danger; the right, compassion. The national conversation is proficient in hate and blame towards whoever doesn’t agree. We’re experts at talking past one another. But really, what we’re most adept at is impatiently expecting America to look like the Kingdom of God. We groan under the weight of an expectation that one country can never shoulder – to offer both love and justice – and lash out in anger when we don’t get it.
We see the misery of this world and want relief NOW, but when disappointed by its slowness we get angry. We see the evil of this world and want justice NOW, but when disappointed by other’s cavalier attitude towards evil we throw the term “liberal” around like it’s acid.
But it will not be our rhetoric or political theories that brings mercy and justice, it will be King Jesus.
Joel 2:28-32 described a future day of the Lord, a coming Advent, that brings God’s Spirit, God’s judgment, and God’s salvation. Joel describes the enemies of Israel surrounding them and leaving them no choice but to rush the border of Jerusalem. They pound on the gates seeking asylum while a storm gathers. A terrible storm that turns the moon to blood, and darkens the sun. The storm is God’s wrath against the enemies of Israel. And as it releases its fire and wrath, the gates of Zion burst open and all who call on the name of the Lord are saved. Heaven has no borders for those who call on Jesus’ name, and no mercy on those who hate Him.
Justice and mercy. Fairness and asylum.
What America can’t be, God’s kingdom will be – that’s the heart of Advent. And that’s the start of teaching our students to engage with this fast-fading world. We must teach them that their government is not the god they expect it to be, but that the government rests upon a baby. Jesus’ government won’t be made great again by appeals to power, angry rhetoric, or liberal catchphrases, but by giving up his power and dying for his enemies.
Teach your students to hope for the politics and kingdom beyond this one. Show them the impossibility of both mercy and justice in this life or in any kingdom. Point them to Jesus’ cross where both justice and mercy kissed, and call them to pray for the last day where both will be consummated.
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. (Isa 9:6)