People think a lot about power. And for every person, there seems to be a different way to conceive of power. Even Lord Voldemort told us good and evil don’t really exist, as there is only power (and those who won’t claim it for their own). Political scientists speak of hard power and soft power. Hard power is probably the most common perception of power: military might, the ability to force your will upon others. Soft power is, well, softer; it refers to the influence of culture upon peoples so that they begin to align with your own society. (The greatest example of soft power my professor knew of in 2006? Britney Spears. I would personally say Justin Bieber nowadays, as I wasn’t safe even in Incheon; his music was blaring over speakers in an ice cream shop.)
To me, power can be either hard or soft, and it takes any one of a plethora of forms. Power can be rolling tanks down Main Street. It can be silos full of nuclear intercontinental ballistic missiles. It can be the ability to craft laws to accomplish your objectives, to make people bend to your will through policy. It can take the form of knowledge or blackmail or wealth or influence or prestige. It can be something as simple as the physical strength to crush someone’s windpipe.
But that’s a very limited (and rather macabre) view of power. I mean, all of those are fairly grandiose. To some people in the world, power is the ability to get out of a chair and walk across the room unassisted. It could be having enough to eat to maintain physical strength. Or to provide for one’s family, or to have the ability to fight disease, seek medical care, or hold down a job.
Power is relative.
I think, though, a stronger yet infinitely more subtle form of power comes in the ability to change someone’s mind without any coercive tactics whatsoever. Anyone can be a bully, but it takes finesse, skill, and rhetorical oompf to change the way someone thinks, to bring it into alignment with your own. And I’m not talking about “Yeah, that’s a great idea!” kinds of things. I mean life-changing paradigm shifts. To alter a worldview so that it becomes something other. Like a shift from atheism to theism, or from nominal Christianity to sold-out cross-carrying discipleship. To empower or enact that sort of willful change in someone is an even greater power than the ability to destroy a planet.
But there’s a far greater kind of power still. In this season of Advent, we look forward to the coming of Jesus. Not just the birth of the Christ Child we will celebrate during Christmas, but the second coming of Jesus as well. The Nativity is a special representation of power we often miss. The baby in the manger is fully human and fully God. His divinity was compressed into a human form, and that inevitably introduced conflict and a certain giving up of his divine prerogatives. Philippians 2:5-8 says this: “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he 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.” Theologians call this kenosis, the emptying. God Himself laid aside infinity and bound himself to a finite mortal form. He became a servant (literally a slave) to humanity. He served us in the most extreme, most loving way possible: he died for us. He lived a sinless life and died a horrific death to remove our sins from us.
But (praise God!) it doesn’t end there. John 10:17-8 states, “For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.” This God-man gave up his life out of love, not because anyone murdered him against his will. And he took up his life again of his own ability, rising again the third day.
Now that is power. The power of laying aside everything, freely dying, and having the authority to come back from the dead to continue making intercession at the right hand of God the Father. This is a power no mortal being will ever be able to possess. This is the power of God and God alone.
And God alone has the power to return to this earth, to take his own unto himself, and to sit on a throne to judge the living and the dead. The power to redeem and the power to damn. This is the second coming which we look forward to in Advent: the fullness of the power of God made manifest in renewing His creation so that we may dwell with Him forever.
The power of God. The power of the nativity. The power of the Gospel.