Under the Gun

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
(Ephesians 6:10-12)

In the midst of a season where good cheer is often celebrated, it may seem odd to bring up warfare. Yet, truly, I cannot think of a better time. I have said it before and will likely say it again, but I cannot look at the Babe in the manger without recalling the Man on the cross.

Make no mistake: Jesus came to earth as a sacrifice, and as Dietrich Bonhoeffer observed in his excellent book, The Cost of Discipleship:

The cross is laid on every Christian. The first Christ-suffering which every man must experience is the call to abandon the attachments of this world. It is that dying of the old man which is the result of his encounter with Christ. . .  When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die.

My brothers and sisters, therein lies the irony of Christianity — joy is found not in birth but in death, or more specifically, in rebirth; in resurrection. However let it not be overlooked that one cannot have resurrection without first experiencing death. It is not possible to resurrect that which is already alive.

Though I do not pick up my Bible each day under threat of discovery and imprisonment or death, still yet our enemy constantly seeks to draw our attention away from my God. He strives to distract, stirring up animosity or apathy or whatever he can to keep us from taking every thought captive to obey Christ.

The narrow path is not an easy one, my friends. We will be ridiculed and mocked. Broad and untrue generalizations and misconceptions will be circulated and enjoyed by unbelievers. However, over the course of this year’s election and its aftermath and now on into the battleground of the Christmas season, I have been reminded several times that I need not feel a personal slight or become indignant about such things. Jesus kept silent when mocked. Should I not do the same?

Not only that, but the unbelievers who ridicule or condemn are not my enemies.

Just a couple of days ago, I had this reminder driven home when an old childhood friend, an atheist such as I used to be, posted a meme on social media stating, “Don’t forget to hate refugees as you set up a Nativity scene celebrating a Middle Eastern couple desperately looking for shelter.”

Forget for the moment that the comparison is really apples to oranges — people fleeing their country because of persecution rather than people compelled to travel within their country to their ancestral home by decree of the governing power. Forget, too, that not all who set up a Nativity Scene hate refugees, or even dislike or are indifferent to refugees. Forget the sheer absurdity of the meme and look behind it for just a moment.

Though such nonsense may be inflammatory in nature, it is not my job to become enraged over it. Often comments like these are mere distractions; a way for the unbeliever to feel smarter, more modern, or perhaps as one having the moral high ground against what, to him, is a rather ambiguously defined and hateful group known as “Christians.”

Do the actual Christians in the unbeliever’s life reflect the hypocrisy he rails against? We cannot know. Often, he does not know himself, for the purpose of such posts and statements, if one is brutally honest, is to deflect attention from one’s own sinful state by pointing out the perceived faults of others.

I know this, because I once indulged in it.

I know this because I happen to be fond of the guy who posted it, and my heart sincerely breaks for him because I know that bears a weight of pain and suffering.

Naturally, suffering is a part of life, but we who are in Christ hurt and suffer with  hope. My old friend suffers in the agony of an unending nightmare, currently unwilling to accept that there is a narrow path of escape open to him. May my glorious King have mercy on him and soften his heart as He once softened mine…

As we engage in spiritual warfare, let us not forget that it is not the unbelievers who are our enemies. They are not the enemy, but captives of the enemy just as we once were.

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—
(Ephesians 2:1-5)

Although our faith may be under the gun, it is important to remember who we are battling, and the Christmas season seems to be a time of increasing volleys on both sides. This year, let’s not get caught up in the wrong battles but as good soldiers, fight the spiritual ones. We are at war, and our enemy does not call a ceasefire for Christmas.

But even in the midst of conflict, we can rejoice because our King has already overcome the world!

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
(John 16:33)

 

 

Advent

Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. . . On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.
Revelation 19:11-13, 16

What is your favorite Christmas carol? I admit I have many favorites, but high on that list is “Joy to the World.” I love that the simple lyrics of this hymn capture perfectly what the season of Advent is all about. For though we often think of  Advent as a time of looking back to the birth of our Savior,  it is also, as the song expresses, a time of looking ahead to the future redemption of a world now held captive by the curse of sin.

As I sing this hymn — or more often out of respect for those around me, as I listen — I feel a sense of connection to my brothers and sisters in Christ throughout the ages. I imagine the wonder and joy felt by the shepherds as they witnessed the angelic announcement of the Messiah’s birth so many years ago. I also feel a surge of anticipation,  envisioning the future jubilation for those who are still awake to behold the victorious return of the King.

In the first stanza of the carol I seem to hear an echo of the angel’s proclamation to the shepherds that they would find a Savior born in the city of David who was “Christ Kurious” as it was put in Greek; a babe who was both the long-awaited Messiah and the supreme authority. In short, the shepherds were told they would find a newborn in Bethlehem who was the future Deliverer King.  What elation must those men have felt as they went to see for themselves this newborn King?

In the hymn, too, there is also a glimpse of that future time when the Lord will come again in victory as King of kings and Lord of lords — that moment when every knee shall bow and every tongue confess His sovereignty.

Here is where I find the only blot of disquiet in my inner revelry, this reminder that someday all will acknowledge Him.  On one hand, I yearn to witness that awesome moment when the Lord claims His own and takes the nations in hand, bringing an end to all that is horrid and hopeless. On the other hand, my heart aches for those to whom this event will be a wretched one and full of terror.  C. S. Lewis frames my dilemma well in his book, Mere Christianity:

“When the author walks on to the stage the play is over. God is going to invade, all right: but what is the good of saying you are on His side then, when you see the whole natural universe melting away like a dream and something else – something it never entered your head to conceive – comes crashing in; something so beautiful to some of us and so terrible to others that none of us will have any choice left? For this time it will God without disguise; something so overwhelming that it will strike either irresistible love or irresistible horror into every creature. It will be too late then to choose your side. There is no use saying you choose to lie down when it has become impossible to stand up. That will not be the time for choosing; it will be the time when we discover which side we really have chosen, whether we realised it before or not. Now, today, this moment, is our chance to choose the right side. God is holding back to give us that chance. It will not last for ever. We must take it or leave it.”

So my dears, I pray that you have already chosen to cast your lot in with the Messiah. I pray that you, too, will  be filled with the joy of the first Advent and will be able to heartily embrace the unspeakable joy of the Advent to come.

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**For further study, look up the lyrics to Joy to the World  here, and look for hints of both Advents within it. As a springboard you can check out Romans 8:19-23, Psalm 96:8-13, Psalm 98:6-9, Luke 19:40, Revelation 7:15-17, and Revelation 21:1-5.   What other verses does the hymn bring to mind? **