22 December 2017

No democracy at the Nativity

I have been sadly remiss this season, as an Orthodox Christian – and not only in terms of the fast and the prayers. (Some excuse is to be made for me there: I’ve been suffering from flu and strep throat these past two weeks.) Even the expectation of the season has been distant from me, and I’ve had to fight off the more-than-occasional bouts of seasonal depression and ill temper with a vengeance. Even so, rare as the occasions have been, the knowledge and joy of the one who, through the Theotokos, is expected has intruded upon me.

‘Intruded’ may be the appropriate word. It was never something I asked for, let alone merited. The Gospel intrudes. It throws you off balance. It doesn’t take your opinion. It doesn’t take polls. It doesn’t evaluate you first (Lord knows if it did, I wouldn’t be found worthy of it). Christ has come whether we wanted Him to or not, and whether we were ready for Him or not.

As I’ve said before, there is precious little about the Nativity that is democratic. The Messianic hope that Christ came to fulfil was an explicitly monarchical one. Christ came to us, as an heir of David and a direct threat to the legitimacy of the Hellenising Herodian puppet-state. Without doubt, the Theotokos and her kin expected a king who would restore a prisca Hasmonæa, an independent kingdom to resist Greek and Roman civilisational dominance. In truth, though, the Hasmonean kingdom itself was but a shadow, a type and prefiguration, of the justice that the kingship of Christ would restore in eternity. The Kingdom of God is not a democracy. The soldiers (that is to say, the demos) of Christ do not vote. We kneel before the throne of God. The victory of the Kingdom of Heaven, is precisely the spiritual victory and revenge of the autocratic, solar-monotheist, communitarian and ‘verbal’ civilisational principles of the Iranian East over the republican-despotic, polytheistic, individualist and ‘carven’ civilisational principles of the Græco-Roman West. This victory did not demolish the West; instead, it transfigured the West from the inside. The Christianisation of the West was its subordination before Asian spiritual precepts.

The Gospel story of the Nativity contains pedigrees; it contains processions; it contains portents and marks of kingship. It contains shepherds and priests alike bowing before the infant Prince of Peace in adoration. If there is any political meaning to the Gospel story at all, that political meaning is not democratic; it is firmly and authoritatively monarchist. True enough: it is a monarchy of an unexpected and peculiar type. Christ was born in ignominious conditions to impoverished parents. No sooner was He born than He was forced to flee His home for a foreign country, because the puppet-king Herod considered Him a political threat. But there was no vote on whether or not He was the Messiah.

These are facts to remember and ponder as we enter another Nativity season. We don’t live in a polity which treats these facts kindly, or at all seriously. Monarchists are considered persona non grata in polite circles; our ideas are thought of as threats to the reigning imperial order, or else we are brushed off as kooks not worthy of consideration for our small number and our lack of political power. Yet who in modern America looks to Christ? Indeed, who at America’s founding looked at all to Christ, when they fell upon their brothers in the great fratricidal bloodletting which we consider our ‘revolution’ – unless it was the Tories?

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