A kinder, gentler kingdom

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“For hate is strong,

And mocks the song

Of peace on earth, goodwill to men!”

– From the poem “Christmas Bells” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

I read an article yesterday that was both revealing and disturbing. It was about terrorism in America and it carefully and statistically outlined how the large majority of terrorist attacks in this country in the last year have been backed by white supremacy groups and loose cannons with hate-filled agendas emboldened by hate groups on the internet. Suddenly the major threat of terrorism is not coming from outside groups, immigrants and Muslims; it is coming from within. These are groups who are anti-black, anti-brown, anti-women, anti-Semitic, anti-LGBT — pretty much anyone who isn’t white and male, which can actually translate to all of us as anyone who isn’t like me. It is the spirit of the age, and it is gaining ground.

It was a stark contrast, indeed, put on display last week by the death of George H. W. Bush and his “kinder, gentler nation.” It made him look like a wimp compared to the prevailing mood that is anything but kind or gentle. But then I thought about Jesus who blessed the meek and the lowly and was Himself meek and mild and humble at heart. I’m afraid Jesus would appear pretty wimpy, too, were He to show up today as He did then. It actually takes great strength to be weak.

But rather than scare us, this should embolden us to stand, more than ever, for Grace Turned Outward. We have the message that is desperately needed today. We offer the antithesis to the culture. (Christianity has always been countercultural.) Jesus taught us another way. Jesus taught us to love our enemies, and pray for those who persecute us. He taught us to return good for evil as representatives of a kinder, gentler kingdom. And He taught us to embrace those who are different from us. Grace Turned Outward is what we represent — grace received, and then grace given out freely as it was given to us. We are combatting hate. It seems that the gospel of welcome is never more needed than it is today.

Hate is strong, but love is stronger. Listen for the bells of Christmas, and when you hear them, remember that the wrong will fail and the right prevail, with peace on earth good will toward men. You and I are called to not just sit on the sidelines and cheer, we are called to bring it to the world. We are the ones who can buck the tide. We can turn evil to good, and turn grace outward to everyone, everywhere.

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Sandie writes:

Hey John – thank you for sharing about Christmas Bells; I do love the sound of them. But for me it is Christmas Lights. When I was little, I used to lie under the lowest Christmas tree branches, all lights turned off, except those on the tree. It was magical then, and it still is. There is a scientific study somewhere that looking at Christmas lights releases endorphins in the beholder, regardless of religious affiliation or even none. So my gift to my neighborhood is my annual Christmas light display, which Bobby says can be seen from the space station! Neighbors across the street and on either side of us decorate too, adding more every year. We joke that we have our own ‘Clark Griswold’ vibe going! Maybe it’s part of the image of God instilled in every human — this visceral attraction to Christmas lights. I don’t know, all I know is that I love them, and I love to share them!

“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.” Isaiah 9:2 repeated in Matthew 4:16 at the start of Jesus’ public ministry.

Merry Christmas to you all!

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2 Responses to A kinder, gentler kingdom

  1. An old proverb says, “It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.”

    As the Jewish celebration of Hanukkah winds down tonight, it is relevant in every Christmas season – and a poignant lesson to be applied to the current state of our society – to know the reasoning behind lighting a candle on eight successive nights.

    Shortly after the Jewish people recaptured the Temple from the Greeks and were 8-times blessed with the one-day supply of untainted olive oil for the menorah, Jewish spiritual leaders and elders discussed how to best commemorate the miraculous events and provision from God.

    One sage, Hillel, determined that on every night, another candle should be added and lit. Thus, on the first night, only one candle would be lit, and by the eighth night, there would be a total of eight candles burning.
    Another sage, Shammai, recommended the opposite. He believed that on the first night, we should light all eight candles and then subtract one candle each night until we are left with only one candle on the eighth night.

    This discussion was about much more than the order in which to light the eight candles. Underlying each argument was a belief system and a suggestion for perfecting God’s world.

    According to Shammai, the sage who advocated subtracting a candle each night, the way to make the world a better place was to destroy evil. The candles’ fire is a symbol of destruction. Shammai believed that we needed to burn away the evil in the world. At first, we need a lot of fire. But as we eradicate more evil, less fire is needed, until no fire is needed at all.

    Hillel, on the other hand, felt that the way to fight darkness was by adding more light. Hillel believed that the complete destruction of evil was an unrealistic and costly venture. Instead, as we add more goodness and more godliness into the world, evil has no place in it. This is why we light one candle on the first night — a little light — and we add more and more light until on the eighth night, the whole room shines.

    Ultimately, we have followed the opinion of Hillel. We light our candles by adding another candle each night. However, we need to follow Hillel’s advice all year long as well. As God commanded, we need to be a light and add light to the world. Extend warmth and compassion; shine with kindness and love. In this way, we can banish all the darkness and create a world of light.

    Let’s never lose sight of the message of those tiny lights amidst the darkness – those “thousand points of light “.
    God is everywhere, if only we would see.

    Shalom my friends… 🙂

    (Excerpts from Holy Land Daily Devotionals:
    http://www.ifcj.org/learn/holy-land-moments/daily-devotionals/)

  2. Mark says:

    Like this truth: “Hate is strong, but love is stronger. ” Amen.

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