Part of the rhetoric used in the 2016 US elections was interesting. Donald Trump talked about making America great again. He would be responsible for seeing America win and keep on winning and even if the world begged them to stop, they would still win. This language says two things. First, Americans do not believe their nation is seen as the world’s greatest. Second, they need a messiah figure, Trump, to lead them to greatness. The fact that more than half of voters supported him suggests they believe Trump will be America’s self-proclaimed messiah.
The Advent Season has something to say about messiahs. This time of year we stop and remember the birth of Jesus. But his birth did not happen in a vacuum, it took place in an historic context. The period approaching Jesus’ birth was difficult for Jews. The Roman Empire ruled and occupied their land. Herod, the local governor, was a tyrant. There was an expectation of the coming Messiah created by the Old Testament Prophets, which given the context, meant they were looking for a political leader who would throw off the shackles of Rome and create a Jewish nation that would lead the world.
Even though the contexts are very different, in both cases, the expected messiah would lead his nation to greatness. How shocking is Jesus life compared to these expectations?
As Christmas reminds us, Jesus was born in a stable. His arrival was in the most humble circumstances possible – not even a dwelling place for humans. He garnered no position of authority in his life. Indeed, his life was cut short at the hands of Roman execution. And yet, in spite of this he was known as Emmanuel – God with us. The rejected would say Jesus was “God with us” because he did not reject them. He healed the sick and they felt God’s presence with them. When Jesus passed by the disadvantaged knew God was near. The disadvantaged knew God was near as Jesus passed by. And even a Samaritan woman realised that Jesus carried the presence of God when he asked for a drink of water, and crossing racial, social and gender boundaries. Without title or position Jesus was God with us.
Legacy – Trump & Jesus
The picture of Jesus the Messiah is radically different from expectations, but also different from Trump’s messianic promise. And the difference isn’t just in position. Even if Trump leads America back to being ‘great again,’ it will fade. At most his presidency will last for 8 years. But history teaches that nations rise and fall. Babylon, Assyria, Greece, Rome and Britain all had their moment in the spotlight but it waned. ‘Greatness’ doesn’t last when it comes to nations.
One of the strongest messages of Advent is that Jesus, the ‘God with us’ man, hasn’t finished his work. You see, just as Advent raises our expectations of Jesus’ first arrival, it also beckons us to remember that he will come again. And when he does, he will make all things right. He will right all wrongs, bring an end to death, sickness and suffering, and once again he will be ‘with us.’ And unlike Trump’s efforts at greatness, Jesus’ will not end.