“He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.” (Luke 1: 52-53 NRSV)
There have been a lot of powerful people in the news lately. Some of them seem to be legitimately powerful. You have elected world leaders, most of whom seem to be at least trying to do what is best for their country. You also have people who want to fill those elected positions. They desire to be in those positions of power.
You have other people who seem to be not so legitimate in their power or in the use of their power. Some rulers really don’t have the interests of their people in mind. Some leaders revel in the power that is derived from other people being afraid of them. Some people seek to use legitimate power in illegitimate ways, trying to force their beliefs or ways on others.
I’m sure you can think of many people who fit each of the descriptions above. Think about somebody like Donald Trump. He has more money than pretty much any of us could ever dream of, and that money buys a lot of power. Trump is more than money though. He’s very charismatic and has a large, forceful personality. He’s the kind of guy that commands a room just by being present in it. Love him or hate him, it’s undeniably true.
Think about President Obama. Though certainly not as bombastic as Mr. Trump, he also has the kind of commanding presence or gravitas that makes people sit up and take notice of him. He certainly has a bit of wealth to his name as well, though certainly not Trump money. Again, love him or hate him, but he’s a powerful person.
Think of some other powerful people. Maybe it’s politicians like these men or Hillary Clinton. Maybe it’s celebrities: actors or athletes. Tom Brady has been in the news, or maybe Serena Williams? Maybe it’s religious leaders like Pope Francis or Franklin Graham.
Again, you may love or hate any of those people, but they’re all powerful in one respect or another. Many of us desire that kind of power or wealth. I think for most of us it is just part of the human condition.
Sometimes we look at some of these people and instead of just being in awe of them, we start to fear them or fear the use of their power. It’s intimidating to realize that someone else truly has power over you. Sometimes we feel very small next to these people, some of whom purposefully put themselves out there as bigger than life for their own gain. It can be intimidating and depressing when we see that happening.
As I thought about this tonight, I was thinking about Mr. Trump. So many people, including many Christians, are going absolutely nuts over him. But why? He claims that his favorite book is the Bible but he can’t even name a single verse. Seriously, even wrestling and football fans know John 3:16! But many of us are attracted to his power and his charisma. We’re also attracted because he speaks to our fears, namely the fear of the “other.” Trump couches himself as “one of us” and then tells us to be afraid of other people, specifically Latin American immigrants, whom he casts as criminals, thieves, and rapists.
Is that the power we should be after? Is that kind of fear mongering that Christians should be buying into? The example of Christ says no. In Philippians 2, Paul talks about Christ and his power, saying that even though he was in the form of God, he didn’t regard that as something to be exploited. Instead of using his power as King of the Universe, he emptied himself, humbled himself, dying on a cross for us.
Think about that. God himself becomes man, or as Michael Card puts it “Eternity steps into Time.” That is the mystery and power of the Incarnation. That man then casts aside all of his own power and lets others have power over him to the point of torturing and executing him for our sake. That is the mystery and power of the Atonement and grace.
Is there anything more anti-Trump? Is there anything more anti-everything that our society seems to value? When we think of power and Glory we don’t think of the manger or the cross, but as Dietrich Bonhoeffer says, we should:
“For the great and powerful of this world, there are only two places in which their courage fails them, of which they are afraid deep down in their souls, from which they shy away. These are the manger and the cross of Jesus Christ. No powerful person dares to approach the manger, and this even includes King Herod. For this is where thrones shake, the mighty fall, the prominent perish, because God is with the lowly. Here the rich come to nothing, because God is with the poor and hungry, but the rich and satisfied he sends away empty. Before Mary, the maid, before the manger of Christ, before God in his lowliness, the powerful come to naught; they have no right, no hope; they are judged…”*
That is a mystery in and of itself. God is with the lowly. In the shadow of the cross earthly crowns are broken in the presence of Him who wears a crown of thorns. The powerful look on as the lowly are exalted and the last are made first.
This is the life to which we are called, living in that shadow, forsaking earthly power and glory to become servants of others. This is the Message. This is the Kingdom of God.
May God grant us the grace and the strength to serve Him who possesses true power and glory.
*Bonhoeffer quote from “God Is In the Manger,” Westminster John Knox Press, 2010.