I spent my Christmas in Obama country. Deep in Obama country. Actually it began at the airport in Jamaica where I bought the latest Newsweek magazine featuring Obama. Then in Miami; The Herald, CNN, CBS' feature 60 minutes, all " got into the act". You just could not escape him. Time magazine - special edition. Life magazine - special edition. Ebony - special edition. The inauguration plans; the campaign revisited again and again; Obama revealed - literally, as the press went ballistic over a shot of Obama in his bathing trunks. You really had to try hard and remember that it was Christmas and that Jesus Christ ought to be at the center of all things.
So in the midst of this Obama mania the Lord sent me through friends, His Word, and reflections from a past Saint, reasons why we need to vigilant about maintaining our focus on our Saviour's birth, death and resurrection.
The first one was a message from a friend, young Rev. Michael Elliot, who received a message from another friend. The message? My interpretation. Even with the best will in the world, which Obama admittedly has, only Christ alone satisfies the deepest longing of the human heart. Only Christ alone can raise us up, "When I am down and O my soul is weary; When troubles come and my heart burdened be...."
A Christmas Message from the Baptist World Alliance
What do you do: when you suffer severe loss and the cancer of loneliness gnaws away at the source of your energy,when the beast called malaria destroys the life of many and threatens to wipe out your family,when the dreadful sounds of war still drown out the gentle voices of little children,when your dream of a land to call your own remains stubbornly anchored in the realm of unlikely possibility? Just what do you do?
What do you do: when the economic tsunami that shakes the world rocks the foundations of your material security,when you look into the near future and see your name on the list of those who must be axed if the enterprise in which you work is to survive,when the uncertainty of preserving your ownership of the space in which you live, space you call your own, takes hold of you,when recent challenges to your health serve as undisputed evidence of your mortality? Just what do you do?
What do you do: when the dreams you once cherished retreat into oblivion before the darkness of unexpected misfortune,when the hopes you once embraced skittle from the calendar of the possible in ways that even the blind can see,when the doubts that flow over the contours of your mind take hold of you and threaten to erase the confident faith you once held dear, when the despair dealt out by the tragedies of this life erodes the vibrant hope and abundant joy you once enjoyed? Just what do you do?
You listen to the voice of the messenger who announces the message of Christmas: "Do not be afraid; for see - I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord" (Luke 2:10-11). The message of Christmas is about the coming of one who deals a comprehensive blow to the edifice of the argument serving our fears and erects, in its place, a lovely fountain from which flows endlessly the Good News that makes Christmas the special time it is: Jesus is here! God is here! We can take leave of our fears and find strength and security in the salvation that God makes available to us! May the confident faith that Christ's coming announces be yours throughout this season and in the coming years!
Neville Callam General Secretary Baptist World Alliance
The second one came right out of the Bible. And followed a deep meditation on the well known hymn; " I need thee every hour". Especially the line : " Stay Thou nearby Lord; Temptations lose their power when Thou art near...."
" Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you what the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid"
John 14:27 NIV
The message -which came out of my experience this Christmas. There are very few things that I absolutely need to get in life. I don't absolutely need to get the latest cell phone - the Blackberry Storm ( forget about the Pearl and the Curve). I don't absolutely have to buy those nice silk ties, the lovely dress shirts, the latest " Sketchers shoes", the flat screen HD TV. I can really do without them. I thank God for the gifts, but it is time to learn that that I can live without the " latest stuff". This is the essential point - within a wider context - made by Thomas Friedman in his latest book " Hot Flat and Crowded". The same world famous author who wrote the highly acclaimed, " The World is flat" and who now returns to focus on the America which seems to have lost its way, and highlights one such example, which resonates well with the rampant commercialism which threatens to replace the focus on Christ at Christmas. In the same way that, at this time, Obama threatens to do also.
"In some ways, the subprime mortgage mess and housing crisis are metaphors for what has come over America in recent years. A certain connection between hard work, achievement, and accountability has been broken. We've become a subprime nation that thinks it can borrow its way to prosperity - putting nothing down and and making no payments for two years. Subprime lenders told us that we could have the American dream - a home of our own - without the discipline or sacrifice that home ownership requires"
So yes, we absolutely need to read books, but not a lot of the other " stuff". But more importantly, what we absolutely do need in our lives, is a peace that only Christ can bring.
But what kind of Peace is this that we celebrate at Christmas. Chris Tiegen, to whom the Lord led me after reading the John passage on Peace, has one answer.
JESUS OUR PEACE
"Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.".. Matthew 10: 34
IN WORD Isaiah prophesied about the coming " Prince of Peace". ( 9:6) The angels declared peace on earth in Luke 2:14 as they announced the coming Lord. But Jesus had a different declaration. People will fight about the truth of His words. They will draw swords against each other in heated conflict over His claims. The fact of His cross and resurrection would become history's greatest scandal. When persecution comes, friends and family members will turn each other in. And when judgement comes, He will be the dividing line by which families and nations are split.
Was His prophecy true? History bears it out. There is no more controversial figure in the entire human race than Jesus. He has been blessed as God incarnate and cursed as a man-made delusion. He has changed countless lives even while " scholars" have disputed whether He ever existed.
No, the kind of peace the world seeks is harmony on this planet. Jesus makes it clear that His peace is of a different order. It reconciles God with His traitorous and humanity with its holy God. It puts a new Spirit in a once conflicted heart. It is a peace within and a peace from above, but it is not a universal peace among our race. Many hate Him. It will always be so. Such is the rebellion of man......................
Some of my friends, who are not Christians, but who are part of this Internet Ministry, are often "scandalized" by Jesus' claims and therefore the church's assertion that " Jesus is the only way to the our Father in heaven". It is a point of view widely held in secular America and in particular, the media. So, here in Miami we often hear " Happy Holidays". And many editorials, even in Jamaica, focus on the " good works" aspect of the Christmas story. Sharing with the less fortunate, loving our neighbour and even tolerance of other people's view of God. It is a view which found its way into the Life magazine's special edition on Obama. It is a view which we must gently, but firmly renounce, even with those who are humbly seeking for answers to deep questions, as Obama obviously is . As to countenance any other view would be to do violence to what transpired on the cross of Calvary, and which divine act of Atonement, began, on earth, at Christmas.
' ......He was prepared to bear witness to his faith in God's purposes, discuss the influence of theology on his political philosophies, address the questions he raised in his first book: " How do we transform mere sentiment into love?" On the other hand there was certainly that if faith meant anything, it surely meant a call to action, to help the least among us, to be our brother's keepers. On the other, he was fully prepared to confess his doubts and talk of mystery, of what he didn't fully understand.
At a time when America grows even more diverse, when more than two thirds of people believe that ' many religions can lead to eternal life', Obama rejected " certainty theology" in favor of something more inquiring, more inclusive........'
Therefore as much as we all celebrated, and continue to do so, Obama's famous victory on Nov. 4. And as much as we celebrate Christmas with the exchange of gifts, enjoy the sweet fellowship of family, share with others in need, our greatest priority at this time is the Peace of God that passeth all human understanding. And which Peace only Christ alone offers.
Obama spoke to a particular need among Americans and indeed the entire world on Nov 4.
"If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible, who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time, who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer.
In a sense both Neville Callam earlier, and Chris Tiegen, in the following quotation, echo a similar but profoundly different sentiment, to a different set of questions. And the answers from both, serve to highlight the difference between frail man, Barack Obama, who needs our prayers, and God Almighty who at that first Christmas, became incarnate as Jesus Christ, and who alone is to be worshipped and glorified.
" For everyone who has ever wondered how God sees him or her; for everyone who has ever doubted God's love when a prayer has gone unanswered or a life has become broken; for everyone who has ever cried out to God, " Are you there?" or " Do you care?". Jesus is that answer: He has come to do God's will and His will is very, very good........."