Acton Institute Powerblog

Christmas replaces Utopia with the kingdom of Heaven

While researching another article, I was taken aback to read a political organization refer to its platform as a “new covenant.” The feeling of unease deepened with each plank of its revolutionary and highly divisive program to remake society de novo (about which, more later). Such mislabeling, while far from a first in politics, does a disservice to “the mystery which has been hidden from ages and from generations” – immanentizing the eschaton, in the immortal phrase of William F. Buckley Jr. Christmas reveals how Jesus, by becoming a human being, has reordered the entire cosmos and infused dignity into every life.

The manifesto in question contained peculiarly bad ideas; however, a host of current “solutions” embraced by conventional wisdom would harm society in the same two overarching ways. First, like every political decree, this one divides human beings from one another – in this case, on the immutable characteristics of race, gender, and ethnicity, the obsessions and petty idols of our age. Second, its vision of central planners implementing unprecedented and invasive government interventions affecting every aspect of life aims to uplift those whom intersectionality and critical theory say have been deprived of dignity, especially economic dignity. The secular ideologue implores bureaucratic agencies to accomplish the perfect work Christ has already completed. Christmas shows us the futility of such efforts in two ways.

The nativity of Christ eliminated the greatest division of eternity: the gulf between God and His creation. The Second Person of the Godhead united Heaven and earth in His very Body. As one ancient prayer says, Jesus of His “unspeakable and boundless love didst become Man, yet without change or alteration” – or in the formulation of the Council of Chalcedon, “unconfusedly, immutably, indivisibly, inseparably … the peculiar property of each nature being preserved and being united in one Person.” He brought peace to the spiritual struggle of our time. As one Eastern Christian hymn of the Christmas season magnificently expresses it:

Today Heaven and earth are united, for Christ is born.
Today God has come to earth, and man ascends to heaven.
Today God, Who by nature cannot be seen, is seen in the flesh for our sake.
Let us glorify Him, crying:
“Glory to God in the highest and on earth, peace!”
Thy coming has brought peace to us:
Glory to Thee, O our Savior! (Hymn at Great Compline)

Christmas not only brings spiritual liberation, but it shows us how Jesus’ incarnation brought peace to all the diverse peoples of the world. This is illustrated in the traditional Eastern artistic depiction of the nativity of Christ. “The image speaks to the sight as words to the ear; it brings us understanding,” wrote the foremost defender of the religious artwork known as iconography, St. John of Damascus. Just as the Bible contains no wasted words, icons contain no extraneous content. Each element contains a symbolism that unravels the mystery of our salvation. In this case, as I wrote at Intellectual Takeout, it shows us how Jesus’ birth united the human race:

The traditional icon of Christmas depicts all the aspects of the Gospel story: the manger, shepherds, angels, and the three wise men. The gift-bearing Magi are shown at different life stages: a young man without a beard, a middle-aged man with a full beard, and an elderly man with a white beard. This symbolically indicates that all ages and backgrounds will come to worship at the creche of Christ. As the age of exploration brought Europeans into closer contact with people of different ethnic backgrounds, Western Christian artists incorporated this paradigm by changing the ethnicity of two of the wise men. Medieval theologians saw the three Magi representing the descendants of Ham, Shem, and Jephthah; beginning in the 14th and 15th centuries some artists depicted two wise men alternately as an Asian Semite and a dark-skinned African.

There is room at the Christmas creche for every ethnic group to bow the knee next to one another in equal honor, rendering equal worship to their common Creator veiled in their flesh.  Jesus’ incarnation has included all the people of the world in one new creation – and what God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.

An unyielding and one-dimensional focus on our DNA, and political schemes based on them, only obscures the spiritual unity Christ created at His birth. Since Christ welds all of humanity together, there are no insignificant people. He has sanctified every age, from embryonic conception to the final moments before an inevitable death. And since His earthly life sanctified every activity of the human race except sin, there are no useless jobs, because there are no useless people. This is vital for us to understand in our time.

One in four people believes his or her job serves no purpose in society or doubts its usefulness, according to a recent study. This year, even out political leaders classify their constituents’ vocations as “essential” and “non-essential,” often on unscientific grounds concealing cronyism.

“I don’t think there is any such thing as a nonessential worker,” said Mike Rowe, host of the Discovery Channel’s Dirty Jobs. The economy “is basically a quilt … and if you start pulling on jobs and tugging on careers over here and over there, the whole thing will bunch up in a weird way.” The recent omnibus spending bill reveals the ways Congress would bunch up our social fabric. If it requires vast supply chains crisscrossing every corner of creation even to create a pencil, planning an economy to benefit any one group, or every group, of citizens lies well beyond the competence of Congress.

The only useless job is one no one needs done, wasting the person’s time and effort. It is precisely this kind of job that political leaders are most likely to create. In a free economy, demand generates supply, calling people to fulfill the needs and desires of others. Aside from sin, there is no wasted work. Every virtuous vocation helps human being fulfill their purpose and underscores the dignity of the created order. Its value is best uncovered through “spontaneous order.” The specific role each person will play remains a mystery discovered by reviewing his talents, opportunities, and demand. Most of all, it relies on prayer that the Almighty will reveal His purpose and calling for each life. Such discernment lies beyond the finite knowledge of any political leader, movement, or manifesto.

Christmas reveals how Christ has eliminated the enmity between His beloved people – all people – and sacralized every virtuous act they perform. Human beings navigate impossible pathways to Utopia, ignoring the most relevant fact of history: Christ has brought Heaven to earth.

Christmas is the end of Utopia and the beginning of the kingdom of Heaven. Let us rejoice!

Rev. Ben Johnson

Rev. Ben Johnson (@therightswriter) is an Eastern Orthodox priest and served as Executive Editor of the Acton Institute (2016-2021), editing Religion & Liberty, the Powerblog, and its transatlantic website. He has extensively researched the Alt-Right. Previously, he worked for LifeSiteNews and FrontPageMag.com, where he wrote three books including Party of Defeat (with David Horowitz, 2008). His work has appeared at DailyWire.com, National Review, The American Spectator, The Guardian, Daily Caller, National Catholic Register, Spectator USA, FEE Online, RealClear Policy, The Blaze, The Stream, American Greatness, Aleteia, Providence Magazine, Charisma, Jewish World Review, Human Events, Intellectual Takeout, CatholicVote.org, Issues & Insights, The Conservative, Rare.us, and The American Orthodox Institute. His personal websites are therightswriter.com and RevBenJohnson.com. His views are his own.