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Christmas: Presence, power, purpose and public policy

Emmanuel means that three transformational realities change how we engage with politics and policy

As public policy officer at the Evangelical Alliance Northern Ireland, I represent the views of many Christians generally and our members more specifically to government and the media. The everyday currency in public affairs and lobbying’ is influence, power and spin. I’ve observed that it’s all too easy to get drawn into the norms and systems of public affairs, or any given culture, for that matter, and as Christians we have not always navigated this space well. 

So, how does the incarnation of God into a human being, Emmanuel – God is with us’, shape our public policy work in Northern Ireland? This is not a question that I think about directly every day, but maybe I should. As I reflect on the words God is with us’, I’m drawn to three transformational realities: God’s presence, His power, and His purposes. 

God with us’ speaks of His presence. It’s so obvious that we could almost miss it. We actually believe that God is with us as we go about our work, dwelling in us through His Holy Spirit. In fact, scripture reminds us that there is nowhere that anyone can flee from His presence. He is present with the faithful but also the least of these”. He is with the poor, the disabled, the widow and the orphan, the alcoholic, and the teenager confused about their sexuality or gender. 

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God’s very presence reminds us of His image-bearers. This changes the heart of our work from policy to people. God’s presence also speaks of His relationship with us. He is not with us’ as an abstract concept or a mythical symbol. He is present intimately with us as His children, loved and adopted into His family. This relational presence of God with His people was a blessing to the nations and can be traced throughout scripture in spite of our sin and rebellion. It spills out into the lives of those who deny He even exists, and so our work is to be a salt and light witness to the presence and blessing of God. 

God with us’ speaks of His power. Award-winning writer Jonathan Merritt wrote: The old Religious Right wanted to acquire power in order to impose their morals. The new Religious Right are willing to abandon their morals in order to acquire power.” I find the blunt labels of Religious’ and Right’ unhelpful and the comment too general, but there is more than a grain of truth to this in many instances. 

Someone else wrote that Jesus is too conservative for many liberals and too liberal for many conservatives. In this political space it’s too easy to get drawn into the currents of left or right, unionist or nationalist. But the power of God with us’ is not the arrogant boast of a world superpower. God is not a bully or a genie to be called upon as a trump card. The power of the King of creation coming as a human baby, somehow the very image of the invisible God, is subversive. It reminds us that power is not a weapon to be wielded to gain control by force. Rather we are gifted with His other-kingdom power through His presence for His other-kingdom purposes. 

Finally, God with us’ speaks of His purposes. God’s purposes are not thwarted by the absence of an Northern Irish Executive or Brexit or a new Babel or Babylon. Our goal is not to win a culture war or to make sure that particular policies are implemented. Our work is not measured by petitions signed or laws enacted. Instead, it is a missional advocacy, bearing witness to the Lord and His good news and good purposes for His creation. We are called to follow faithfully and to be co-workers with Christ in the good works that God has prepared for us to do.

God with us.’ These three words transform our work into worship. May they do the same for you this Christmas.


During Advent, we’re exploring​Emmanuel, God is with us’ — how the presence of God shapes the work that the Evangelical Alliance cares so passionately about: mission and crossing cultures, reaching young adults, public leadership, public policy, and how this is all made possible by the generosity of the church. We hope that you’ll join us and in this Christmas celebration as we look forward to more of God with us in the year ahead.

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About the author

David is our lead on public policy. He is a former solicitor and represents the Evangelical Alliance on a range of government, civic and charitable forums. He serves in the space where faith, law, politics and culture intersect.

See more from David Smyth

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