Sic Transit Gloria Mundi

November 30, 2008

Faith, Politics

I love the holidays.  I love the joyful time with my family.  I love the good cheer in everyone’s heart. But my cheerful heart is troubled this holiday season. The litany of challenges need not be fully itemized.  But here are a couple of the things that leave me apprehensive:

  • Our economy is in one of the greatest upheavals that it has ever experienced – at least, during my lifetime.
  • Families across the nation are struggling to survive this upheaval.  Thousands of hardworking and dedicated people now find themsleves without jobs.  And it is horrifying to realize that you can no longer meet the needs of your family – especially during this overly-commercialized time of year.
  • We have seen desperate people take desperate steps just to overcome their economic bondage.  In Africa, these people have seized ships on the high seas – after all, they’re pirates.  But they live amongst the normal fishing villagers of Somalia.  And the fishing villagers seem willing to protect and defend them.  They have felt econimic despair for generations. And that despair has been transformed into anger and hatred.
  • We are still mired in international conflicts against a shadowy foe who seeks to extinguish our very existence.
  • We have seen that foe kill almost 300 people in an orgy of hate and despair during the past week.

As I write and read this list, I am very frightened for the future that may await us.  I see how legitimate concerns and fundamental inequalities can be transformed into irredeemable despair.  Indeed, it is despair that has transformed a number of Afghans, Pakistanis, Somalis and Palestinians into the agents of terror which the West so easily demonizes.

These and many other challenges now face this world and the peoples of the world.  In the last generation, many nations of the world turned to communism as the means of righting these wrongs.  Indeed, even today, nations like Venezuela have turned to agrarian “communism” in a vain effort to transform their circumstances.

And a generation before that, we saw the Nazis exploit the fear and despair of Europe in a murderous effort to seize control of the world.  A horrific economic tsunami led to the collapse of Germany and the rise of Nazi Germany.  In the warm confines of our comfortable houses, we wondered why the German people would ever despair and turn to such evil.  But we are now faced with an economic tsunami that may well challenge every one of us.

But amidst the chaos, fear and mounting pressure of despair, I also see the transformational power of hope.  In the United States, the people have voted to “hope” and work for a better future.  Don’t misunderstand these words.  I did not (and do not) support the politics of Barack Obama.  But President-elect Obama has revealed one of the most fundamental truths about America: we are a hopeful and a decent people. I certainly pray that his message of hope will be the start of an amazing resurgence of America’s good will.

Yes, there are inequalities in our nation.  And there are some indecencies which boggle the mind.  But at our very core, we are a people that rise to challenges rather than shirk them.  We embrace a fair challenge.  And we will fight against indecencies that we see around us.  As a people, we are uniquely willing to look in the mirror, recognize our own shortcomings, and strive to overcome them.

But while we can change much, the fundamentals of this world have never changed.  There have always been inequalities.  And every one of us can be counted upon to live down to our lowest impulses.  Despite the grand and noble gains that America has represented, we are only a representation of the best that can be achieved by fallen man.

And thus enters the infant.  At this time of year, we are reminded that one infant can transform the world.  And this is such an upliting message: one child CAN transform the world.  But if we leave this as a story of hope triumphing over despair, we miss the real point of the story.  There was something extraordinary and special about this child.  This is not the story of ANY child making a differnce; it is the story of one special child making the difference.  If the story of the virgin conception wasn’t enough to proclaim the uniqueness of this child, then the host of angels proclaiming His birth might remind us of the fact that this was not any ordinary child.  This child was unique and unrivaled in the history of the world.

While the world of Israel was under siege from the cruelty of Rome, God delivered His own solution.  He did not rely upon the warm-hearted good cheer of the dozens of messiahs that arose throughout Israel.  Instead, God chose to enter a world that had willingly and intentionally spat into His face.  His children had abandoned Him – and then cried out to Him when their despair became too great.

Are we not in the very same situation?  For generations, God has blessed us.  And God has used us to help others.  But we have come to rely upon ourselves and not rely upon Him.  We see our own greatness and fail to remember that God is the only truly great one.  Whatever we have achieved is because we have trusted Him to guide us.  God led people to this nation.  God cared for those people.  Indeed, the Thanksgiving holiday is a testament to trusting God for our daily bread.

But now we are at a crossroads.  God is asking us to trust Him (and not ourselves).  God is asking us to care for one aother.  God is asking us to set aside our own selfish sense of accomplishment.  We need to let our glory pass and remember the glory of the Child.  We must remember that this child came to die on our behalf.  The birth of this child is hope.  But the death of the Christ is victory.  If we want to become all that God has in store for us, we cannot stop at hope.  We must be prepared to sacrifice ourselves – and we must accept the sacrifices of others.  And we must accept the most important of all sacrifices: the substitutionary death of the Christ.

Every time you hear the bells ringing this holiday season, remember the promise of hope – and remember the responisbility of the Christmas child.




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