You may have noticed that there has been a presidential election in the US. Many have been excited by the result, including those from the Republican side of American politics. Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, both African Americans, have been vocal in their reaction, and for good apparent reason. The election of a person of colour as President in a nation where racial segregation was very much part of the culture in my childhood and youth is a watershed. It suggests a profound change in the heart and mind of American thinking and society.
Condoleezza Rice described President-Elect Obama as ‘inspiring’. And I can only agree. He appears to be a man for our times and a leader determined to make change, to lift the downtrodden spirit of the nation and, perhaps, of the world.
Newspaper headlines spoke of the dawning of a new age. The hopes of many are pinned on the charisma and the abilities of one man. He is the anointed one; indeed, much that is said of him and of what changes he can make is messianic in its nature and its stature.
Is he indeed a new messiah – the anointed one who can change the world? I hope the heightened expectation is not all in vain. And I hope too that the people of the US – the people of the world –can keep in perspective what one man can do. It is far too easy to sit back and say, ‘Well, Obama is here and all will be right with the world. Let’s just leave it to Barack.’
No-one, not even Barack Obama, can change the world on his or her own. First, we have to believe – and follow. That has happened. The people have voted and the die is cast.
But leaders, even the most inspirational, capable and powerful don’t do it alone. First there is a massive team working with them, developing policy, planning the strategies, putting things in place that turn ideas into reality.
And then there are the rest of us. No political leader, no bishop or rector, no school captain or Head can make things happen unless there are those prepared to follow. Leaders lead but there is precious little in the leadership unless people follow. ‘Follow the leader’ isn’t just some kind of party game. It is real life, too.
There is another messiah, about whom much was written before anyone knew who he was, and much has been written since. The expectation of Jesus the Christ was enormous, and plainly misunderstood, even by those who followed him. And there is still much misunderstanding. Many keep waiting for the promised kingdom – the new heaven and the new earth where pain and suffering are no more, where life is changed once and for all.
But like the president-elect, the promised kingdom depends on more than one person alone, even God in the person of Jesus. God needs a following, people to get on board, to place their trust in where the leader will take us. We need to play follow the leader.
I admit to being quite excited by the promise of President Obama. But I am even more excited by the promise and the promises of God.
In this Advent season, we wait expectantly and perhaps there is a parallel with the great anticipation of a president-in-waiting. If we are impatient for the new régime in Washington, are we just as impatient for the reign of Christ? In the anticipation and preparation that are at the heart of our Christian work in Advent, do we feel the same immediacy, the same promise of a new coming, of something world-shaking and life-shaping in the Bethlehem narrative?
If we don’t, then perhaps we need to immerse ourselves again in what that narrative tells us. And there is a major difference between the two. We have waited before for a world leader who will meet the promise we have been led to expect. However good they may be, the humanity always shows through and we soon see the flaws in the promises and the shortfall in their realisation.
But with Jesus, we know what is offered. It is all there before us. All we need is to get on board, to follow the leader, not only in spirit, but in truth.
Read more from the Reverend Chris Welsh…