The most geopolitically exciting Christmas of my lifetime was 1989, which included the collapse of the Berlin Wall and East European Communism, concluding with the snap trial and execution of longtime Romanian Communist chief Nicolae Ceaușescu and his spousal partner in murderous tyranny, Elena. The revolt overthrowing the Ceausescus and the Communist Party had begun with a local demonstration defending a dissident Protestant pastor besieged for critiquing the regime.
Within a remarkable ten days after that first demonstration the Ceausescus, this time unable to kill their opponents quickly enough, were themselves dead by firing squad, their corpses on display before the world. Before being shot, he reportedly sang Communism’s anthem The Internationale, which includes the words:
No one will grant us deliverance,
Not God, nor tsar, nor hero.
We will win our liberation,
With our very own hands.
To throw down oppression with a skilled hand,
To take back what is ours —
Fire up the furnace and hammer boldly,
while the iron is still hot!
Contrast its defiant summons with the words from the pregnant Virgin Mary in Luke’s Gospel recalled especially at Christmas:
He hath shewed strength with his arm; he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree.
They echo the words of Daniel in the face of the Persian Emperor Nebuchadnezzar:
Blessed be the name of God for ever and ever: for wisdom and might are his: And he changeth the times and the seasons: he removeth kings, and setteth up kings: he giveth wisdom unto the wise, and knowledge to them that know understanding.
Ceausescu, reacting against his ostensibly religious and abusive father, became a Communist as a young man, fighting Romania’s fascist regime aligned with Hitler. The Third Reich had promised 1000 years for itself but instead only got twelve. Ceausescu was on hand to greet Romania’s Soviet liberators, whose regime had claimed to be the finale of history. Instead it would have 74 years, ending Christmas 1991, two years after Ceausescu’s execution.
At times seeking distance from his Soviet overlords, Ceausescu had constructed his own personality cult inspired by Mao and Kim Il Sung. From his religious background did he ever recall the divine promise and warning that the proud would be scattered and the mighty put down? If so, he never wavered from his Communist conviction, per The Internationale he sang with final breath, that there is no God and that liberation is won with our own hands.
Communism’s collapse at Christmas, at least according to the Western calendar, is perhaps providentially significant. Christmas is an eternal rebuttal to tyrants and all rulers who are proud. Herod rightly feared the Baby Jesus as a rival. His efforts to extinguish Him failed, since He is inextinguishable, as every tyrant since Herod has learned and will learn in the future.
The great totalitarian ideologies of the last century are mostly dead, having choked on their own effusion of blood, mass murder and poverty. But there are new despotisms alive today around the world that claim for themselves what only belongs to God. They will do their share of the Devil’s own work but will fail in the end. They always do. “He hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He hath put down the mighty from their seats.”
Bethlehem’s baby was born in the city of King David to serve as the King of Kings who “removeth kings, and setteth up kings.” His birth announces not only salvation but also the inevitable triumph of political justice eventually consummated by His direct rule but foreshadowed by all earthly measures that recognize His image in each person, lowly and great.
The Ceausescus of this world may rule for a season, through chicanery and murder, but Christmas always comes again and prevails.