Albert King’s Blues anthem, Born Under a Bad Sign, is about bad luck. It comes quite close, however, to the narrative matrix of the Lukan birth narrative. That narrative begins in the second chapter with: “In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered.” Jesus was born under a bad sign. Things, however, are not as they seem.
This is one of the first pieces, in fact, that you and I must put into place in order to understand the counterpoint of Luke’s narrative about a humble and holy child born in Bethlehem. A ruthless and cruel ruler moved an entire empire by his mere decree. And though this seems to be the way it always is–forces that move and shape us beyond our power to resist–Luke is writing a manifesto of resistance. For things are not what they seem. It looks like Caesar Augustus is the one controlling the world but no, Luke says, there is another prince who will not only counter the cruelty of kings and puppet rulers, but he will defeat them. Christ was born under a bad sign but in its place, raised an emblem of Peace and Justice.
In those days, a tweet went out from President Trump, and the entire world was roiled. The impulsive and delusional impulses of our President have once again resulted in his spewing lies about President Obama’s birth certificate and attacks on Muslims. In this season’s Advent watch, once again, the Christ child is born under a bad sign. Remember Luke’s subversive message of the Christmas story, that this same holy Prince of Peace will defeat these forces of cruelty and malevolence. As Christ’s mother, Mary, sang upon the news that she carried within her the messianic hope of the world [Luke 1:46-55]:
God has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
God has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
Listen, you who provide tax breaks to the 1% and burden the poor and sick. Pay attention. Tweet and decree all you like but in this Advent season, we know that the Christ child who countered the power and cruelty of Augustus will overcome you as well.
Raise high the insignia of Peace and Justice over the bad sign of cruel rulers. The Good News has shattered the twitterdom of presidents and sycophants.