Reflection on Advent and Power

by Kelly Kumbu, DAI Regional Director for the Francophone World

 

Power. What does power have to do with Advent? I submit that Advent (including the circumstances which surround the Nativity story in the Holy Scriptures) is a vivid reminder of the proper use of power – that is, for the flourishing of others.

“If we are honest ourselves, we can acknowledge that we have faced, at least once in our leadership, the subtle but undeniable pull of the corruptive effects of power.”

If there’s anything we must be reminded of during this festive season as leaders, it is that we bear the responsibility of how we use the gift of power that is granted to us from above. If nothing else, because of the proverbial saying: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely!” This cautionary statement conveys the opinion that, as a person’s power increases, their moral sense diminishes. The fact that a month does not go without news outlets reporting the abuse of power by high profile leaders – politicians, corporate executives and clergy – is indicative of this reality. And if we are honest ourselves, we can acknowledge that we have faced, at least once in our leadership, the subtle but undeniable pull of the corruptive effects of power.

David’s scandal in 2 Samuel 12, is perhaps one of the somberest examples of how power can corrupt even the noblest of us. As king of Israel, David’s adultery and subsequent homicide not only showcases how a brief moment of distraction and idleness can cloud our judgment. It also reveals how deceptive power can be. It led, David, a rather kind, compassionate and God-fearing leader to fall prey to manipulation, control, and injustice. The prophet Nathan’s oracular confrontation to David particularly highlights the unjust dimension: “The rich man was unwilling to take one of this own flock or herd to prepare for the guest who had come to him, but instead took the poor man’s ewe lamb.

“He instead creatively used his power to cast and share the stage of the unfolding Nativity story with characters largely unnoticed by those in power: the shepherds of Bethlehem.”

The Nativity story, on the other hand, runs counter to David’s Machiavellian scheming. Rather than a pompous birth worthy of a powerful bourgeois, God limited his power by being born in a manger – an undignified birthplace. He did not utilize his power, even when it could have been rightly justified, to retaliate against his nemesis, King Herod. He instead creatively used his power to cast and share the stage of the unfolding Nativity story with characters largely unnoticed by those in power: the shepherds of Bethlehem. This motif of the powerful creatively wielding power for the sake of the least is also seen in the somehow surprising act of the Magi – these enigmatic figures who, according to the ancient Greek historian Herodotus, were known for vying for royal power – bowing down to the infant King. The Apostle Paul later in Philippians 2:5-8 encapsulates the gist of this Divine drama in these terms:

Though he (Jesus) was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

What are the implications of these musings as we approach Advent?

  • First, realizing the enormity of his sin, David cries out: “I have sinned against the Lord” (2 Sam. 12:13). Consequently, Advent reminds us to confess and repent for the instances when we abused power in our leadership.
  • Second, Advent is a reminder that we must be proactive and intentional to surround ourselves with caring individuals (our Nathans) who can keep us accountable by confronting us with love any time we “exercise authority” over our subalterns.
  • And, finally, Advent should compel us to ask the Holy Spirit to keep us alert to the deception of power and to empower us to use our platforms for the common good.

By so doing, we make room for the King of Glory to reign over and wield His life-giving power on our leadership. This too is the message of Advent.

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