Advent Day 4 – Speaking Truth to Power

Aaron Sorkin is one of my favorite screenwriters. His films (A Few Good Men, An American President) and TV shows (Sports Night, The West Wing, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip) are all known for witty, rapid-fire dialog and a heavy dose of political commentary. His latest show, HBO’s The Newsroom is, in my opinion, his best to date. All of his work has been idealistic and this latest one, taking a great deal of inspiration from Don Quixote, is literally quixotic. I’ve been re-watching the first season of The Newsroom as my elliptical viewing and it occurred to me that the main character, Will McAvoy’s primarily struggle is what to do with power. He is (fictitiously) the 2nd most-watched news anchor on cable and hosts a show in their prime time spot.  As the series begins he is speaking to a panel at the University of Chicago when he is asked by a sorority girl why America is the greatest country in the world. I’ve posted the clip of his answer below. Please note that is contains NSFW language.

The series goes on to show how his newscast chooses to use their platform to create a more informed electorate and not bow to the advertisers by reporting on trash for ratings. He also struggles with how to relate to his staff, going from not knowing any of their names to almost seeing them as people. He wants to use power for good but is continually seduced by its privileges.

As we wait for Jesus to come, whatever we’re waiting for, we often want Jesus to show up powerfully. To change things drastically, to heal big diseases, solve big problems and really show himself to be the Savior that we want him to be. Jesus can do all those things and, in some cases, has. But this time of year, we celebrate his first coming to earth as a baby. There is nothing less powerful than a baby. There is nothing less results-driven than a baby.

Throughout Jesus’ time on earth, people tried to get him to take positions of power, from Satan in Luke 4 to his own disciples (we’ll build a monument, one for you, one for Moses, one for Elijah!). He spent his life as a homeless man, depending on the support of others, and telling the powerful how truly wrong they were. He encouraged his disciples to focus on the “least of these.” The only instance we have of Jesus interacting with someone really wealthy and powerful was Zacchaeus, and he ended up giving everything away after having dinner with Jesus. He was mockingly called the “King of the Jews” on the cross where he was executed as a common criminal.

Jesus was not powerful, yet he was God. We try so hard to be powerful, yet we are mere mortals. The church has historically gotten itself tangled up in politics with mostly disastrous results. We try to effect change through systems because it seems more powerful when if we actually got down in the dirt with our neighbors, we’d experience the power of healing and connection more than we ever thought possible.

During Advent we have the opportunity to reflect on how God chose to show up in the world at a time when the world really needed it  – although I’m not sure there’s ever been a time when the world didn’t need it. Jesus taught us about real power – the power of healing and forgiveness. The power of hope and community. Our culture celebrates the wealthy and powerful by calling them “job creators” and rewards them for hiding their money overseas so they don’t have to pay their fair share. God forbid we hold wealthy people accountable because we might make them angry. I wonder what a dinner with Jesus would do for them. Maybe then we would be the greatest country in the world.

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