“He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.” (Luke 1:52)
The advent of Jesus is good news to the young woman living under the occupation of a client state ruler in the first century Galilee. “My soul glorifies the Lord,” Mary sings, “and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior … he has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.” This is, God’s messengers will make clear, “good news to all people.” But some do not recognize it — especially rulers who cling to their thrones. The advent of Jesus is a direct threat to their expansionist vision.
In present-day Ukraine, there is a city named for Mary — Mariupol — where Vladimir Putin’s troops have wreaked havoc this year and Volodymyr Zelensky’s army, backed by the United States and its allies, is fighting to reassert control. “Peace on earth, goodwill toward all people” — the good news of the advent of Jesus is the sort of message young women and men living in Mariupol long to hear.
Those who cling to political power receive this message as a threat. In Moscow, it’s a refutation of the aims of Putin’s “special military operation” and the twisted nationalist religion that has been used to promote it. In Washington, the prospect of peace threatens both Democrats’ and Republicans’ sense of moral superiority in the global struggle for democracy.
The advent of Jesus does not solve the global political crisis that weighed on Mary 2,000 years ago — that crushes so many in Mariupol today. Instead, it locates the hope for our future with the God who chooses to be with us in Mariupol. Neither Putin’s dreams for Mother Russia nor Joe Biden’s dreams for democracy in Europe are the future we bow to in this season.
To worship the One who is Mary’s baby is to submit to the future that the God born in Bethlehem makes possible. It is to sing with joy that “he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts” even when — especially when — we are the ones who have been paralyzed by our pride. In this season of watching and waiting, we do not have answers. We learn to be present to the pain of Mariupol and to pray with its suffering people for the peace we all need.
Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove lives with his family at the Rutba House, a Christian community and house of hospitality, in Durham, North Carolina. He directs the School for Conversion and serves on the Steering Committee of the Poor People’s Campaign. Follow him on Twitter: @wilsonhartgrove.