The Common Good

Brian McLaren: The Politics of Joy

Brian McLarenI know this is a "God's Politics" blog, and I know that this won't sound very political, but in the end, it sort of is, especially ten days before Christmas.

Earlier this week, I was speaking to a group of Methodist ministers and we sang the Christmas carol "Joy to the World." Two moments in the song took my breath away.

The first came when I sang "let every heart prepare him room." If the carol is right, the way earth receives God's "prince of peace" is through individual hearts like ours. By making space, by opening our hearts to Christ, by letting our lives be the stable and manger into which good news quietly comes, by rendering the vacuum and vacancy within us vulnerable to the incoming of the Spirit ... we become, like Mary, "theotokos" - God-bearers.

That might sound kind of mystical, not political, and I guess it is. It is something that I believe we all can actually experience: the possibility of preparing room in our hearts so that Christ truly comes.

That brings me to the second transcendent moment in the carol for me this week: "No more let sin and sorrows grow, nor thorns infest the ground. He comes to make his blessings flow far as the curse is found."

The coming of a good king in the ancient world meant a lot, and although kingly language may sound archaic today, I think we can recapture its meaning when we think of a thorny land, polluted by sin and cursed by sorrow, becoming verdant and fertile and healthy again - blessedness flowing over the land like a warm breeze.

And of course, this is where the personal and political meet. Thinking about justice, talking about peace, debating public policy, and working for social change are important ... but not as a substitute for the very personal choice to "prepare him room" in our hearts, so that (as the saying goes) we can be the change we want to see in the world.

The way "earth receives her king" (and the blessings he brings) is not by bombs and guns and wiretaps and coups; not by aggressive blog postings or passionate media pronouncements by pundits. Rather, the king (and the kingdom) come first to the quiet hearts of humble people who "prepare him room," and the joy flows to the world through them.

That's the language of spiritual formation, no doubt. But how can there be political transformation in the external world of thorns, sins, and sorrow if our inner lives don't become the manger into which hope, healing, empowerment, love, and joy are born?

What happens in the political realm - in the public world where people treat one another justly or unjustly, peacefully or violently, as neighbors or as enemies - can never be separated from what happens in the personal realm. And the reverse is true, too.

That's the source of the politics of joy.

Brian McLaren is chair of the board of Sojourners/Call to Renewal. A former pastor, he is now an author and speaker. Rumor has it that his latest book, The Secret Message of Jesus, would make a great Christmas gift.

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