Advent, Week 1 – Hope


Salem_United_Methodist_Church_and_cemeteryA good friend of mine attended a funeral today. The woman who passed away was a member of her church, a member of the group of ladies who go to Sunday lunch together after the service. And as it happens, this was the sixth member of that small congregation to die this year. My friend is not alone. Others have lost loved ones this year, too.

On a national scale, we have protests in Chicago and a(nother) shooting in Colorado. We have Presidential candidates saying divisive things (not just Donald Trump; Hilliary Clinton merrily declared Republicans to be her enemies in the first Democratic Presidential debate.) Then there is the tightened security around . . . well, wherever people gather together. Here in SoCal there was a Festival of Lights in Riverside that had beefed up security because of the crowd the event would draw. I mean, Riverside? Do most people even know there is a Riverside, let alone where it is? Apparently, no matter where we live, we’re facing this terrorist threat in one way or another.

Internationally there’s the scramble to contain/destabilize/degrade/destroy (pick your verb) ISIS, aka ISIL, aka Daesh. (Am I the only one concerned that our government continues to call the terrorist organization one thing when the rest of us call it something else and the people fighting them use a third name? I mean, we can’t even agree on their name?)

But this is the beginning of Advent. Christians are turning our focus on hope.

Despite personal, national, or international concerns, it’s right that we cling to hope first and foremost during the Christmas season, and beyond. But how do we get there?

I remember facing Christmas for the first time after my dad died. The holiday just didn’t seem right without him. Would Christmas ever be merry again, I wondered.

The thing is, too often the merry-making associated with Christmas is of a superficial nature. We’re merry because we have a party to look forward to or presents to buy and wrap and another whole set to get. We have once-a-year music that brings back fond memories. We have food to prepare and stockings to stuff, trees to decorate, lights to string.

There’s lots to do, places to go, people to see. It’s a bit of a whirlwind, but a merry whirlwind that comes only once a year, so we love it and embrace it and enjoy Christmas because it’s so special.

And it is.

But if that’s all it is, then it’s easy for the loss of a loved one, or fear, or worry to shatter the fictive Christmas dream. This special holiday will never again be perfect because this dear person or that, is no longer here, or because this event happened or could happen again.

Of course, the reality is that the “perfect Christmas” is an ideal few of us ever live. But a greater reality is, there’s a more perfect Christmas waiting for us.

The reality is that Christmas is abundantly more than presents and decorations and food and family. Yes, it’s about Jesus coming in the flesh, stooping to take the form of Man, but it’s even more than that.

If Jesus only came and then went away, what would we have? An example to follow, perhaps, though who can live a sinless life the way God in the flesh did? In truth, Jesus came to earth as a baby in order that He might come to each one of us as Savior.

The whole Christmas story includes God descending in order that He might ascend again and take us with Him.

The loss of a loved one runs deep, there’s no doubt. And it’s right and appropriate to mourn. Christmas trappings may lose their glitter in the process, but the significance of Christmas can actually grow. What other holiday is more hopeful than Christmas? Only Easter, and the two really are different sides of the same celebration.

Christmas celebrates God sending His Son. Easter celebrates God receiving His Son. What Jesus accomplished in the between space makes all the difference.

Now we have the hope of heaven to go along with the hope for a Merry Christmas. We can hope to get along with our family on December 25, but we can also hope to spend eternity with them. We can enjoy the Christmas parties and feasts, but we can look forward to the banquet supper of the Lamb. We can bask in the music of the season, but we can anticipate the forever praises of God’s people as they worship at His throne.

In other words, what we have at Christmas is a foretaste of what we will enjoy in Heaven, without limit. The beauty, the love, the laughter, the peace, the safety, the generosity, the creativity, the activity—none of the elements of Christmas we love so much can hold a candle to what awaits us when we join Christ.

Paul himself said it in Philippians: to be with Christ is gain. It’s not an abandonment of what we love here; it’s what we love and more.

One piece of that “more” is an end to the losses, to the goodbyes. And an end to the worries and fears. That is great good news in its own right and definitely a cause for hope. Yes, some may mourn at Christmastime and some may worry or fear, but for those who embrace Christ as more than a baby born in a manger, for those who cling to Him as Savior and Lord, our mourning is turned to gladness at the promise of Christmas, our worry and fear to joy and peace.

We of all people have hope beyond the temporary merryness of the season because we look to an eternity of God’s peace and good will.

Advertisements
Published in: on December 1, 2015 at 7:03 pm  Comments (2)  
Tags: , , , , ,

ISIS/ISIL – What’s In A Name?


Flag_of_the_Islamic_State.svgI finally did a little digging to see why the US media refers to the terrorists operating in Syria and Iraq as ISIS while the White House calls them ISIL. Not that I got a good answer.

I did learn a few things, though. First, the term the President and all his staff use—ISIL—stands for Islamic State of Iraq and Levant. Levant? Sorry, but I didn’t know that term so had to look it up. Turns out Levant refers to “the eastern part of the Mediterranean with its islands and neighboring countries” (Oxford-American Dictionary). A pretty broad area, in other words.

The terrorists themselves have changed the name of their organization more than once. In 2013 they adopted Islamic State of Iraq and Syria—ISIS—but just this past summer they changed to the broader name Islamic State, a term some news outlets are now using.

In all this it appears to me that varying groups are bending over backwards to get the name right, to stay up to date, or to be consistent. But here’s the thing—names carry meaning.

Add to that fact this key point played out in every one of our government elections—defining your opponent is key to success. For example, four years ago in an election here in California, Senator Barbara Boxer (not known for much by way of legislation or clout or pretty much anything in the Senate at the time) seemed to be in real trouble against the smart, well-connected woman entrepreneur, Carly Fiorina. But Boxer’s campaign team hit the air waves first, during a period of economic downturn and high unemployment, and defined Fiorina as someone shipping jobs overseas:

Boxer . . . was able to get TV commercials on the air earlier that defined Fiorina as an out-of-touch CEO and someone too socially conservative for the state (“Barbara Boxer Defeats Carly Fiorina”).

Jerry Brown, in his run (or re-run) for governor of California in 2010 did the same thing, defining his wealthy opponent, former eBay CEO Meg Whitman, as someone trying to buy the governorship.

Years before, during the abortion wars, the media came under fire for defining the two sides with the names they favored—Pro-choice for groups favoring abortion and Anti-abortion for groups opposed to abortion. The latter, in contrast, called themselves Pro-life and referred to their opponents as Pro-abortion.

Good propaganda capitalizes on the power in a name, defining oneself before his opponent does or defining his opponent before he himself does.

I’m at a loss to understand, then, why both the media and the White House are showing the extremists trying to hijack Islam the kind of respectful attention that using their puffed up title affords them. Islamic State?

Imagine what people would think if a group of Christians decided to declare Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Nebraska the Protestant State. Would the media and the White House politely be calling those Christians the PS or the PTOKN? Not likely.

But this past June these Muslim extremists went a step farther. They showed their hand by declaring a caliphate headed by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi (known by his supporters as Amir al-Mu’minin, Caliph Ibrahim). “A caliphate represents a sovereign state of the entire Muslim faithful, (the Ummah), ruled by a caliph under Islamic law (sharia)” (Wikipedia).

Caliph refers to “the chief Muslim civil and religious ruler, regarded as the successor of Muhammad” (Oxford-American Dictionary). The group, then, claims dominance over the Islamic world:

In its self-proclaimed status as a caliphate, it claims religious authority over all Muslims worldwide, and aims to bring most Muslim-inhabited regions of the world under its political control (Wikipedia).

In other words, this group of extreme terrorists has taken upon itself the mantle of their most respected religious figure and, by the newest iteration of their name, are declaring themselves to be THE representation of Islam. My guess is Saudi Arabia doesn’t agree, or Jordan, Egypt, Yemen, Iran, Turkey, or any of the other Muslim countries.

Why then, do we here in the US politely go along with their self-aggrandizement? Why are we not defining them as they certainly appear to Christians and to many non-Christians as well—manipulative, power-grabbing terrorist bullies. We could call them MPTB for short, since initials seem to be all the rage these days.

Names matter.

God thinks so, which was why He gave the command to treat His name as holy.

Muslims think so too, holding the name of their Prophet in highest honor.

Propagandists (and campaign managers fit into this category) understand the power of tagging labels on those they support or oppose.

It seems to me it’s past time that Americans wake up to the power of a name. We bandy God’s name around as if He has no meaning, but we fire people for daring to call another individual “the N word,” or some other offensive term.

We validate terrorists by calling them the Islamic State (whether IS or ISIS or ISIL) and we disparage Christians and Church by labeling them “traditional” or (horrors!) “fundamental.”

Because names have meaning and communicate, it’s important to use them wisely and with purpose.

God’s name should be revered, whether we call Him God or Yahweh or Father or Lord or address His Son, Jesus or speak of His Holy Spirit. All should matter because He matters. Those of us who bear the name of Christ should validate His importance to us by conducting ourselves in obedience to Him.

But in this topsy-turvy world where good is being called evil and evil, good, we put more effort in calling a heinous terrorist group by its “right” name than we do identifying God.

What too few people realize is that one day ISIS or IS or America or all other names will pale in significance, and the whole world will bow and confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. There’s the name that matters most!

Published in: on October 15, 2014 at 5:00 pm  Comments (2)  
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,
%d bloggers like this: