One of my enduring memories from my early days of politics at university is a Christian mate of mine saying to me: ‘You need to give up on all that politics. It’s a mucky business’.
A mucky business. Many people of all faiths and none wouldn’t trust a politician as far as they can throw them just for the simple fact of their vocation, no additional information required. Why? At least in part their failure, perceived or actual, to deliver on their promises. To stick to their word. Manifesto after manifesto has come and gone, leaving those that voted for them hollow and disillusioned. The current Brexit negotiations are a case in point.
Unwilling or incapable
Failure to keep promises comes down to two things. Either we are unwilling to keep our promise or we are incapable of doing so. Neither of these things are unique to politicians but they do have a tendency of over-promising and under-delivering quite publicly.
I’ll give you a few examples on the off -chance you’ve forgotten. For Tories and Theresa May this is perhaps most clearly illustrated in her general election campaign in 2017, if you can cast your mind that far back in political history. One disastrous policy and a U-turn in the face of media hounding, and the ‘strong and stable’ candidate was swiftly re-branded ‘weak and wobbly’.
And then we come to ‘O Jeremy Corbyn’. Personally I like Jeremy Corbyn, I even admire him. Whatever you say, Jezza is a man of principles, of strong ideologies. And I respect that, even if it worries me. However this did not prevent the 2017 Labour manifesto being an uncosted work of complete fantasy. Luckily for him he has yet to be in a position where he is expected to deliver on it.
And I am not writing from the vantage of my high horse. The Lib Dem record isn’t exactly intact when it comes to keeping manifesto promises. Our failure to deliver on our promise to abolish student fees is never far from people’s minds if they think of the Liberal Democrats during the coalition years. There is nothing like going from 57 to eight MPs to convince you of the importance of keeping your word.
Many people would argue that politics is all words – empty words, clever words, false words and big claims. In an era of fake news, words have never meant so little.
Bible’s big claims
But this is not how the Bible treats words and promises. Whether you believe them or not, few people would dispute that the Bible is a book of big claims. That God is a God of big claims. God is also a God of words. But in a very different way to politicians. Unlike humanity, God is both willing and able to keep every promise he has ever made. There are few places we see this more clearly than the Christmas story.
One passage that you will probably hear more times than you can count during the run-up to Christmas is John 1.1-14. ‘In the beginning was the Word’; that famous opening. But rather than letting it trip off the tongue, I challenge you to pause for a moment. Pause and let the weight of those words sink in. As we read on to discover, the Word that it speaks of, the Word that becomes flesh, is none other than Jesus himself. So Jesus was in the beginning. Before the existence of space and time.
I am unashamedly a colossal space nerd. Stars, galaxies, nebular clusters… they all fascinate me and utterly blow my mind. So to try and wrap my head around what it means to exist in an eternity beyond all that is totally incomprehensible. But sometimes I think it’s worth trying, just to remember that I can’t, and to be amazed again by how totally awesome and huge God is and how absolutely minuscule I am by comparison. This is an immensely powerful God. A God whose words have the power to create and to save. A God who sustains and rules his creation and who is able to do what he has promised.
But what is it that he has promised and is he willing to see it through? Brexit is a mess, whatever stance you take. But the mess we are in isn’t just national; it is also global and personal. It is often only on the personal level that we are able to diagnose the real problem. In a crisis there are many temptations. Probably the biggest is to find something or someone else to blame. But on those rare occasions we are totally honest with ourselves, the problem is in our hearts. To be a sinner is to be one who instinctively turns their back on God. And that describes me. It describes us all, in fact. We are all instinctive sinners. And to turn your back on your creator is a very serious thing. It is an insult and rightly results in his wrath.
The opening of John is also the beginning of a narrative, a story. A story that starts before creation and that Jesus has always been a part of. This was a God with a plan, a plan from before the beginning of time. Jesus wasn’t a last-minute invention, a miraculously successful last-ditch attempt to save a bad situation. In v.23 John quotes Isaiah 40, that had prophesied the coming of Jesus 700 years earlier. Over and over again the Gospels refer to promises made in the Old Testament that point to Jesus coming. Even as far back as Genesis 3 we see the promise of a saviour and serpent crusher. This is a God who is pretty confident he can keep his promises and stakes his reputation on the fact that he can and will.
And he doesn’t do it by half! It is in Christ that we see the nature of the God who created and sustains us. ‘Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given.’ Fullness, all, grace upon grace. This is a picture of overwhelming abundance and generosity.
God isn’t fulfilling his promises in a half-hearted way just so he can say he has. He is going above and beyond, he gives us the right to become his children, if only we receive him (v.12). 2 Corinthians 1.20 beautifully sums up what the Gospels – and indeed the whole Bible – prove over and over again. ‘For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God.’ The promise of living as we were intended to, in perfect relationship with God and creation: life.
Where is our hope?
I am often asked what difference being a Christian makes to me in politics. Well, one thing it undoubtedly brings into perspective is that there is a bigger picture, a certain destination. As Christians it is important we aren’t blasé about the running of our country. We should be committed to participating in the public square. So these things are important; but they are temporary. We should not be crushed or elated by a particular democratic outcome. Our hope is not dependant on them, important though they are.
I imagine that in this messy political time many people wish they could press the fast -forward button and see how this Brexit business all ends. I know I certainly do. But that is the beauty of it. The Bible is the one book where it is ok to skip to the end. Why? Because it ends really well. If you are a Christian reading this, let me reassure you and encourage you – whatever messy situation, national or personal, you find yourself in this Christmas, Jesus wins! And how can we be sure? We can be sure because our unwavering-ly faithful, awesomely powerful, promise-keeping God proved it at Christmas. Proved it by keeping his word, by stooping into our mess to save us from it. By sending his one and only son, proving beyond a shadow of a doubt the incomprehensible size of his love and unimaginable depth of his grace.