America's military presence in Iraq has officially ended. U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has told the troops, "Your sacrifice has helped the Iraqi people to cast tyranny aside and to offer hope for prosperity and peace to this country's future generations."
While we're scaling down operations in Iraq, we are apparently escalating them in Iran. Military officials are now saying that the RQ-170 Sentinel drone that crashed in Iran was ours, and that it was surveying suspected nuclear sites in the country. We have good reason for such an investigation. Dennis Ross, who just retired as President Obama's top Iran policy official, warned on Tuesday: "If Iran has nuclear weapons, the potential for nuclear war in the Middle East goes up dramatically."
These are just the latest headlines from this volatile region of the world. What makes these issues relevant nine days before Christmas?
Jesus was "the son of Abraham" (Matthew 1:1). That means he was a direct descendant of an Iraqi. Abraham was from Ur of the Chaldees (Genesis 11:31), the site of modern Tel el-Muqayyar in southern Iraq's Dhi Qar Governate. God called him to "leave your country, your people and your father's household and go to the land I will show you" (Genesis 12:1), and the rest is history.
The Magi who brought gifts to the infant Christ were from ancient Persia. Second-century Christian art in Roman catacombs depicts them in Persian garments, as did a golden mosaic over the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. In other words, Jesus' first Gentile worshipers were Iranians.
Two principles follow. One: God loves Iraqis and Iranians, and is at work in their ancient lands. More Muslims are coming to Christ than ever before, many after seeing visions and dreams of Jesus. By some reports, there are as many as two million secret Christians in Iran.
Two: we should join him. I pray every day for 100 million Muslims to come to Christ over the next year, and ask God to lead Iranian President Ahmadinejad and Supreme Leader Khamenei to salvation. If he could bring Saul of Tarsus to himself, can't he win anyone to his Kingdom? What impact would such conversions make around the world?
The Child who chose an Iraqi for his ancestor and Iranians for his worshipers now chooses you and me to advance his Kingdom. The Magi brought him their best gifts. What will you give him today?