Advent: A Time to Lose Your Trust in Princes
No matter where you fall politically, it’s been a rocky few years. Truth be told, it’s been a rocky few millennia. Sometimes the mighty fall, but sometimes the wicked thrive. Sometimes the righteous prosper, but sometimes they beg bread. We live in a world full of promise, and yet, for all our progress, it never has and never will live up to its potential, not since the fall.
When Luther’s Reformation began, and as it settled in, Luther certainly turned to princes for help. He famously appealed to the German nobility. And yet he also cautioned—and especially regarding princes—that Christians not lose proper perspective or misplace their faith and hope. He echoed the wise counsel of Psalm 146: “Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation. When his breath departs, he returns to the earth; on that very day his plans perish” (Ps 146:3,4).
Politics aren’t a bad thing. Christians should care about them, because we care about our fellow citizens. Civic life is a wonderful place for civic righteousness—and when faith is present, Christians, coming from the perspective of both civic righteousness as well as Christ’s righteousness, have a wonderful opportunity to show the self-sacrificing love Christ has shown for them. When politics take on a religious zeal or tone or role in the Christian’s life, though, it’s time to remember the psalmist’s counsel. We dare not trust in princes, because we have a Prince. We have a King Who has come, still comes in Word and Sacrament, and will come again on the Last Day, not in terror, but with mercy and peace and paradise.
The Meaning of Advent
Advent basically means “coming” or “arrival.” It’s that season of the church year when many Christians pray again and again, “Come, Lord Jesus, come.” This is a prayer of eager expectation, not fear. It’s a confession that, for all the good this life holds, and for all its promise, there is something bigger, better—promise fulfilled and hope undashed, that awaits us, that comes. And we are reminded of that whenever we hear the good news of Christ’s coming; when we are absolved, forgiven of our sins, when water and Word make new children of God, when bread and wine provide a foretaste of the feast to come, together with Christ, body and blood, Who will come to take us there, even as He comes in His Supper.
As 2017 winds to an end, the Christian church has already now moved into a new year. Advent marks the beginning of a new year in Christ. The church year starts anew, and again we walk through the life and ministry of the Savior as well as His life and ministry through His Body, the church, through us, His Christians, in our various vocations.
Good princes are a blessing from God. Good rulers bring many blessings. We are urged to pray for them in the Scriptures. We are reminded to pray for our leaders, whoever they are, whether we voted for them or not. Good order is good for everyone. We want our neighbor to flourish, and so we rightly want to put men and women in positions and offices to help them do so. Only so much can be achieved in this realm and in this life, however, and people are but people. There is a ceiling on how much politics can accomplish, and that ceiling reaches nowhere near heaven. Only one Prince can take us there, can bridge that gap, can serve as Jacob’s ladder. The psalmist reminds us of that in the next verses of Psalm 146: “Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God, who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, who keeps faith forever; who executes justice for the oppressed, who gives food to the hungry” (Ps 146:5-7).
I pray you have a blessed Advent. I pray it’s a time, even in the midst of all the hurry that comes with the close of 2017, to step back, take a breath, and celebrate that in Christ all things are already new, that a new year has already begun. Christ has come, does come, and will come. He has set you free from the prison of sin and death. He feeds you, not only with daily bread, but is Himself your Bread of Life. He is your justice, your righteousness, having taken the burden of the law upon Himself, becoming cursed and accused to make you blessed and blameless.
Happy New Year, friends! Jesus is your Prince, your King. That makes Advent a wonderful time to lose our trust in all other princes, to want the best world we can give our neighbors here, but also to remember that our best life, our ultimate hope, knows no boundaries and has no end, unlike the heaven many would fret and scheme and sweat and despair over building here. We’ve been rescued from such thinking. Advent reminds us of that.
Come, Lord Jesus, come!
Dr. Wade Johnston has degrees from Martin Luther College, Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Central Michigan University, and Erasmus University Rotterdam. He serves as assistant professor of theology at Wisconsin Lutheran College in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and served for ten years in parish ministry in Saginaw, Michigan.
Mark doesn’t waste words in his Gospel. His Jesus, the Jesus, is a man on a mission, determined, racing. Mark doesn’t waste words, but his words pack a punch and his brief descriptions beg for deep reflection. Like a passenger in a car driving quickly, we can easily miss the details of the landscape if we don’t pay careful attention. Mark sets us on a race, but it’s important to stop along the way.