Monday, December 27, 2004

For the Contrast

2 Samuel 6:13-22 (New International Version)

13 "When those who were carrying the ark of the LORD had taken six steps, he sacrificed a bull and a fattened calf. 14 David, wearing a linen ephod, danced before the LORD with all his might, 15 while he and the entire house of Israel brought up the ark of the LORD with shouts and the sound of trumpets.

16 As the ark of the LORD was entering the City of David, Michal daughter of Saul watched from a window. And when she saw King David leaping and dancing before the LORD , she despised him in her heart.

17 They brought the ark of the LORD and set it in its place inside the tent that David had pitched for it, and David sacrificed burnt offerings and fellowship offerings [
a] before the LORD . 18 After he had finished sacrificing the burnt offerings and fellowship offerings, he blessed the people in the name of the LORD Almighty. 19 Then he gave a loaf of bread, a cake of dates and a cake of raisins to each person in the whole crowd of Israelites, both men and women. And all the people went to their homes

20 When David returned home to bless his household, Michal daughter of Saul came out to meet him and said, "How the king of Israel has distinguished himself today, disrobing in the sight of the slave girls of his servants as any vulgar fellow would!"

21 David said to Michal, "It was before the LORD , who chose me rather than your father or anyone from his house when he appointed me ruler over the LORD's people Israel-I will celebrate before the LORD . 22 I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes. But by these slave girls you spoke of, I will be held in honor."

Well, Christmas day has passed. Nancy and I spent part of the day in Kansas City with her mom and family and part of it with my sons and daughter and grandchildren at my daughter Beth’s place about seventy miles north of Kansas City. She and her husband have just finished building their new home there and it was an opportunity for us to get to see their new digs.

We had a really good time. We ate enough, not too much, which was a real departure from Christmases past. The only problem we had was that we got too many gifts. Everyone was quite thoughtful and generous. But it was all too much. On the way home to Emporia yesterday morning Nancy floated the idea, and I agreed, that we are going to let family know that the best gift they can give us in Christmases to come is a donation to a charity.

Nancy’s brother, James, really enjoyed his Christmas. For those of you who haven’t read many of my posts, James is retarded and lives at home with his mom. He’s really so easy to please. This year Nancy made up an 8x11 certificate acknowledging that this was his “best year ever.” It took about two minutes, assembling a piece of paper costing about two cents, and a piece of gold twine to tie the rolled up certificate in to make it ready for him. His face just lit up when he saw it. As Nancy’s relatives arrived James would get the certificate and show it off, then insist that each relative take a picture of him with the certificate. So now everyone has a photographic record of Jimmy’s year. He’s going to cherish that gift more than any of us would cherish a diamond ring or a Mercedes Benz if we had gotten one as a Christmas gift.

We didn’t follow the news at all for the day or so we were gone. When we got home we heard that there was a real tragedy in South Asia with thousands dead and the death toll climbing steadily. I saw some of the videotape of the disaster this morning. Everything about the day seemed to be so beautiful. But the blue sky and the wonderful fair weather clouds lulled so many into a false sense of security. By the time that people saw what was happening it was too late. It was surreal, deadly.

This morning I received by e-mail a report from our pastor who until a year or so ago served as a missionary in Malaysia:

Dear Friends,

Thank you for your prayers and concern. We ask you to please continue
in praying for the situation.

At 9AM local time on the day after Christmas here on Penang Island, we
were hit by the Indonesian Earthquake. The island of Sumatra
is Malaysia's neighbor and our apartment tower swayed for about one
minute. It appears that our building is ok. Nearly four hours later, I
just happened to look out the window and saw the high waves from the Tsunami approaching our coast. There was no warning for the fisherman, families on the
beach and residents along the coast who were caught by surprise. From our
19th floor, Cindy and I witnessed many fishing boats being destroyed and
Others sinking. Currently, 53 people have died in our area of Northwestern
Malaysia with many more missing. We are still waiting on updates from
local officials but over 1000 homes are destroyed and thousands have been left
homeless. The Malaysian government declared the situation as "a disaster never
seen before in Malaysia's history." To the north of us in Thailand, hundreds
have perished in the area of Phuket.

There are no reports of our church members or facilites in Malaysia
being affected at this time. Most of our churches are on the mainland in
this area with two here on the Island.

Please pray for the relief efforts underway here in Malaysia and also
Thailand, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, and the Bay of Bengal.
Pray also for the Lord's protection in the region from any further

If you are able to send funds to help with emergency relief efforts
during this time, please mark it as "Relief fund" and send to:

Foursquare Missions
P.O. Box 26902
Los Angeles, CA

Here in the U.S. many travelers had problems. Between computer glitches, weather delays, and stacks of misrouted baggage it was chaos. I watched a bit of Fox News last night and saw the comments many stranded travelers were making. “This is an outrage.” “It’s totally unacceptable.” “Delta Airlines should be shut down permanently.” “They’ve ruined my Christmas.”

I had breakfast with Curtis McCauley this morning and mentioned the travel problems in passing. “It seems a bit funny to me, Doc,” I said. “I mean, does it really take this little to ruin someone’s Christmas?” He laughed along with me and said that “I suppose it depends on whose ox is being gored.”

He could be right, and maybe I’d be complaining as loudly as anyone else if I were in the middle of it. But in the light of what’s happening in South Asia right now a lost bag or a missed flight seems more than a bit trivial to me. I’m sure there are some who will read this post and think that I’m an insensitive brute. There’s not much that I can say in my defense. I really have a hard time having great sympathy for someone who can’t find their baggage when I compare it to what may in South Asia lost this weekend.

All of this brings me to what Nancy and I have been talking about since before Christmas. Our conversations have almost all been about contrasts.

Nancy mentioned on Thursday last that she thought the way we Christians can best reclaim the real Christmas is to give the ACLU whatever they think the holiday is or should be about and go about celebrating it the way it should be celebrated. “Let them take it away,” she reasoned. “I don’t know what they’ll have, but it won’t be Christmas. Think about it…..You can’t have Christmas without Christ.”

We talked about her idea for a while and determined that the ACLU can’t take Christmas away. How can they? Oh they can threaten us and rattle their legal sabers. But worse than that has happened to believers throughout history and their response has been much different than ours in our time. The earliest Christians were threatened by ecclesiastical authorities and ordered them not to talk about “this Nazarene.” The Christian response then was:

Acts 4:29-30 (King James Version)

29”And now, Lord, behold their threatenings: and grant unto thy servants, that with all boldness they may speak thy word,
30By stretching forth thine hand to heal; and that signs and wonders may be done by the name of thy holy child Jesus.”

In another case it took intervention from a Pharisee named Gamaliel to keep them from being put to death for speaking about Jesus. The alternative punishment was a flogging and a command, once again, not to speak about Jesus:

Acts 5:40-41 (King James Version)

40”And to him they agreed: and when they had called the apostles, and beaten them, they commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go.
41And they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name.”

It’s interesting, isn’t it? Contrast the response of the early Christian community with the response of much of the Christian community in this country today. The contrast is stark, isn’t it? No amount of temporal authority was going to keep them from proclaiming, “with all boldness, the name of the hold child Jesus.” Now it seems that once the ACLU sues or threatens a lawsuit the matter is settled. We’ll complain, but the threats seem to be enough to stop us from getting too carried away about the birth of Jesus. I wonder what causes us to shrink to feebly when they rattle their sabers. Maybe we’ve got too much to lose by celebrating Christmas properly.

I think Nancy may be right. Let them do what they want with Christmas. Then maybe we’ll be able to claim what is right about it. Think about it. What can do they do about it? Flog us? Put us in jail? Well it’s happened to Christians before. Why should we feel that these things can’t or shouldn’t happen to us?

Maybe it is time for America to see a contrast between what Christmas should be compared to what it has become. The contrast could give people a window through which to see what is real compared to what is really illusory.

Several years ago Nancy and I visited Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris on a beautiful Sunday morning. We went assuming we’d see what tourists generally see there – a beautiful building, nothing more. As we entered we heard the sound of music coming from the front of the sanctuary. We drew closer and saw, in the middle of all the commercialism and tourism, about fifty or sixty worshippers singing praise to God. Their focus was altogether different than the throngs of tourists who had come. In fact they seemed oblivious to them. The thought struck me – I too was nothing more than a tourist when I should have been a worshipper. As I listened I felt my knees buckle and tears come down my face. The same thing happened to Nancy. We haven’t forgotten that Sunday. To us it was God’s way of saying that the real is always there. There may be commerce all around. Tourists may not be able to see it. But the “real” is always there. Nothing external can stop it! Only we can!

Where there are contrasts there are inevitably choices. The story of Moses’ interaction with Pharaoh is recorded in Holy Writ. God has demanded, through Moses and Aaron, that Egypt is to “let my people go.” In between the plagues visited upon Egypt there is an interesting bargaining session going on. Moses brings God’s word…..”Let my people go that they might worship me.” Pharaoh bargains with God as each plague is visited upon his nation. First he says, as I read and hear it, “Don’t go to far. Worship here in the land.” I think it was another way of saying, “Don’t get too carried away with this religion thing. Stay close to us.” God rejects this offer. Next Pharaoh offers the opportunity for the men to go as long as the women and children remain in Egypt. Doesn’t it sound familiar? It’s the siren’s song of culture. It was Pharaoh’s way of saying “This religion thing might mean something to you, but let us have your wives and children.” God rejects this offer and another plague ensues. Pharaoh again seems to relent. “You and your wives and kids can go, but your goods and possessions must stay here in Egypt.” God again rejects the offer. His message is clear. His people are to worship Him in their totality. Everything is to be a part of it, even their goods and possessions.

I sense that our culture and our society have, like Pharaoh, offered compromises. The difference between us and the children of Israel is that they rejected the compromise.

You may say, dear reader, that there are differences between what happened then and what is happening now. The cultures and histories are different. And we’re not in bondage as the children of Israel were. The differences, I contend, are of style and not substance. The children of Israel were in bondage, under the tyrant’s whip. We’re in bondage to the commercial interests of our culture. There’s not much difference in substance as far as I can see.

What’s the way out? I come back to what Nancy shared with me last week. We need to reject the offers of our culture for compromise and get back to what Christmas and our faith should be all about.

I opened this post with the story of David’s response to taking the ark of the covenant back to the “Holy City.” He was so elated in what was transpiring that he had to stop periodically to dance for joy. His wife saw the “spectacle” and told David that his display was unseemly. It was, in her words, “undignified.” I’ve always loved David’s answer. I’ll put it in my vernacular – “Sister, you ain’t seen nothin' yet!”

Contrasts…..contrasts…..I believe it’s time for us to tell the ACLU and our culture, “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.”

What say ye?

1 comment:

Porkchop said...

How can they say such a disaster RUINED their Christmas? Saddening, yes. But only deepening the sense of what Christmas is all about, all that we have to be grateful for and helping us to focus on that which is really important.

How incredibly sad.