What is this? Ralph Peters of the NY Post writes the world is descending into tyranny in 2018. Vladimir Putin was re-elected by 77% of the vote in a rigged election. He works hard at home to project a mythological figure, bare-chested and bold, like the czars of old. President Xi Jinping of China engineered a lifetime tenure (who needs an election?) and is the nation’s most powerful leader since Chairman Mao in his heyday, the latest Chinese emperor. The President of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, dubbed “The Punisher” by Time, launched his war on drugs resulting in thousands of murders by his death squads. There is Turkey’s Tayyip Erdogan, a would-be sultan, and good old-fashioned desert chieftans like President Bashar Assad in Syria and veiled in religion, the Ayotollah Ali Khamenei of Iran. The latest, greatest, and most lethal newcomer to this exclusive strongman club is Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia. MBS had the nation’s wealthiest princes and businessmen arrested, held captive at the Ritz-Carlton, in what was basically a shakedown. MBS had the Prime Minister of Lebanon kidnapped. Most recently, the CIA has concluded that MBS orchestrated the brutal murder (15-man team with a bone saw!) of a dissident journalist, Jamal Khashoggi.
What does this mean? Peters claims tyranny is flourishing because not everyone sees freedom as their top priority, preferring security. Many who are inexperienced in freedom, equate it with anarchy. Tyrants may oppress you, but they never demand you take personal responsibility, it is not your fault. They will find a scapegoat to blame and/or an enemy to demonize. Tyrants offer certainty, all you have to do is get out of the way, let someone tell you what to think and do. The Roman Empire was run by a tyrant, Caesar who claimed the title, “King of King, Lord of Lords” before Christ hijacked it for his own purposes. More locally, Mary and Joseph lived under Caesar’s governor and the regional desert chieftain, King Herod the Great. Talk about a paranoid, violent, and vicious strongman, killing his own wife and sons among others, to protect his power and throne. MBS could learn a few tyrannical tricks from cruel King Herod. Into this brutal world of Caesars, Herods, and repression, the Angel Gabriel comes to adolescent Mary with a shocking announcement, “Greetings, O Highly Favored One, the Lord is with you. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you will call him, Jesus”. One writer suggests both Gabriel and Mary are trembling at this point, because now it is all in Mary’s hands.
What is the takeaway? As to Christmas, Martin Luther claimed there were three miracles. One, that God became human. Two, the virgin gave birth. Three, that Mary believed, and that is the greatest of the three. Mary’s call is God’s response to a world of intimidation, tyrants, injustice, and bone-saws. The Christmas gospel is precisely what Paul is referring to, “For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength”. Christ comes at Christmas to disrupt the power structures and change the hearts of people, as Mary sings, “He has brought down rulers from their thrones, but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things, but has sent the rich away empty”. Christmas brings a new day, a new reality, a new power from outside is coming to expose our poverty and enrich us with his eternal, expanding, and ultimately unstoppable grace. Right now, we see only glimpses of such grace, but they are there. Advent is a time to be on the lookout for God sightings. Next May I am joining a small group traveling to Lebanon to work in a refugee camp with an Egyptian missionary (Pastor Fawzi) and his wife (Haydi). Due to Assad and the Syrian war, refugees pour into the camp. Their specific ministry is to minister to young girls, think of Mother Mary’s age, who have been sex slaves to Isis. The hope is to witness the Holy Spirit bring healing, wholeness, and Christian faith to these young girls. I decided to go because I want to see first-hand how the power of God works among the wounded of this world. This is the hope of Christmas, the promise of salvation.