Monday, December 21, 2009

The Darkest Night of the Year

There are plenty of people around who will be happy to tell you the celebration of Christmas is a farce, rooted in pagan rituals and bedecked with all sorts of trappings of non-Christian customs; Christmas tree, evergreen wreaths, Santa Claus.
FYI, the Christmas tree custom is said to have been derived from pagan tree worship. I wasn't surprised to learn this because ever since I was a little tyke, I have felt an irresistible urge to genuflect every time I passed the lighted tree.
The evergreen wreaths and boughs have a similar origin, and Santa Claus, well, now he's something else altogether.
Old Saint Nick, we call him.
Well, of course you know that "Old Nick" is another name for Satan.
There you go.
Christmas is a big tree-hugging orgy culminating in a midnight visit from the devil himself, who breaks character by giving things rather than taking them and inexplicably drops down the chimney instead of rising from the frozen ninth circle of hell.
(Wait, the frozen ninth circle . . . . cold, North Pole, I've found another connection! And you have the striking, eerie similarity between "ninth" and "north." In fact, you only need interchange two letters to reach the same spelling.)
And the crowning glory of the 25th of December haters is the very date itself.
December 21st marks the winter solstice, a day that has held such significance for so many non-Christian cultures that I couldn't possibly name all the different rites and feasts. Essentially, it has to do with Dec. 21 or 22 being the shortest day of the year, and the turning point for lengthening days. Stonehenge, Sun gods and some ancient Greek festival dubbed "Festival of the Wild Women," all figure in, among many, many other pagan icons.
So, I say, what a glorious wonderful day to celebrate the earth-bound birth of Jesus Christ, our Savior.
In the midst of all the secular and even satanic ritualistic high days, December 25th sets a holy fire burning, raining light down like a certain mysterious "conjunction of planets" over 2000 years ago.
Beset like the oppressed Jews under Roman rule, we struggle here in the darkest night, the longest eclipse we can remember, longing for the coming of our Redeemer.
And in the middle of the darkness a spark is struck, and suddenly, the darkness is only a foil for that beautiful, blinding fire that grows and pulsates and will one day consume the whole new earth with it's brilliance.
"-and I'll keep my Christmas humor to the last." said nephew Fred "So, a Merry Christmas, Uncle!"
"Good afternoon!" said Scrooge.
"And a Happy New Year!"

Saturday, December 05, 2009

A Subject Too Deep For Me

Psalm 55:4 My heart is in anguish within me, and the terrors of death have fallen upon me.

Fear and trembling come upon me, and horror has overwhelmed me.

I said, Oh, that I had wings like a dove. I would fly away and be at rest.

Psalm 69:3 I am weary with my crying; my throat is parched.

My eyes fail while I wait for my God.

Psalm 88:3 For my soul has had enough troubles, and my life has drawn near to Sheol. I am reckoned among those who go down to the pit; I have become like a man without strength, forsaken among the dead, like the slain who lie in the grave.

Psalm 88:14 O Lord, why do you reject my soul? Why do you hide your face from me?

I recently read an article in World on a book entitled Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America and its author, Barbara Ehrenriech.Ehrenreich was diagnosed with breast cancer. However, the disease proved less of an irritant to Barbara than the support group tripe. Inundated with sappy platitudes, pink ribbons and teddy bears, and worse, pressure to be positive, she rebelled and fired off the afore-mentioned polemic. She is an accomplished author, with titles to her credit such as Nickled and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America and Bait and Switch: the (Futile) Pursuit of the American Dream.She obviously was no bright-eyed optimist before this recent crisis in her life, but now apparently she has discovered the reason for many of America's problems: we feel driven to feel happy.
There is some plain common sense displayed here. Nothing is bound to make you more wide awake than knowing you have to get some sleep, humor is irrepressible when you must not laugh, humor deflates when you are expected to laugh, knowing you must relax is stressful and so on.
But of course you can agree with her syllogistic conclusion only if you agree with her premise.So, do we feel driven to feel happy?
I think the expectation of happiness is arguably the most accepted gospel in America.
If you are ever sad, you are expected to get over it, and fast.
Why be sad, when you can be happy?
I, who have sat under very imaginative and creative judgemental ministers, have never felt so preached at (or more nauseated) as when a co-worker or some passing stranger will say something like "Well, it's just a beautiful day to be alive, isn't it."
And the preacher said, "Everyone who is happy in the Lord, turn to your neighbor and say, 'You look like you've been praising the Lord.'"
Don't misunderstand me. Every day is a beautiful day to live because of the grace of God, but more often the obligation to feel happy is based on the pleasant weather, or some other pathetic excuse to force yourself to be happy.
Without God, really the day is pretty crummy when you consider all the sadness just under that veneer.
Once a co-worker prompted my dad by saying, "It's a wonderful day to be alive, isn't it?"After thinking a moment, my dad responded honestly and cheerfully enough , "It is, but I'd rather be dead."
This is what is known as a conversation-stopper.
Paul said basically the same thing in Philippians 1:23 and again in II Corinthians 5:8, but it raises eyebrows in a culture gorged on Oprah, Dr. Phil and any number of motivational gurus out there that you care to listen to.
As Americans, we certainly are expected to be happy, and yet the reasons we're given are no reasons at all. In a nutshell, we are told we are to be happy because it's the right thing to do.
There is the equivalent of a moral obligation to be happy, to be thankful that you're alive, never mind that we're left no One to thank, or, if we are, He has been so stripped of His omnipotence that He is not capable of doing anything for which we could thank Him.
But Christians aren't off the hook, either. We are just as caught up in the happy culture (as opposed to joyous).
I would like to blame it on Joel Osteen, Joyce Meyer, or maybe Zig Ziglar, but I think the infestation predates them.
How many tearful Wednesday night testimonies have you heard that tell of a struggle that lasted a week, or two or any given period of time, provided it has a beginning and, most importantly, an end? Victory is claimed. Battle over. So thankful we don't have to deal with that anymore.
I don't think there is any deliberate attempt to delude ourselves, but we suffer so under the impression that we are under strict orders to be happy, that much of the time I think we feel pressured to claim victory, to plaster on a smile and move on.
It is true enough that no one likes a constant complainer, or someone that "enjoys poor health," but such adherence to the happy doctrine leads to, if not dishonesty, then delusion.
We're uncomfortable with the subject of suffering, because we instinctively feel it reflects badly on God. Trials are to be expected, sure, but the emphasis is most definitely on how God will bring you or did bring you out of that trial. If He does not, we go looking for meaning in the struggle with a certain desperation. If we can pin down what we feel is a legitimately feasible purpose for our troubles, we are saved the trouble of having God's name besmirched.
Recurring prayer requests are common enough, but the request is often offered with yet another dose of positive thinking: "This time God will end it for good and all."
Therefore some who have requested prayer time and again for the same problem will at last begin to feel embarrassed and just place their expectations on "someday, God will-" and try, at least, to put aside their feeling of urgency about the problem.
Oswald Chambers wrote the most startling book on Job I've ever read, in which he said, " The cosmic force makes God appear indifferent and cruel and remote, and if you become a special pleader of any particular creed (in which category Chambers places Job's friends) you have to shut your eyes to facts. The only revelation which gives a line of explanation is that there is something wrong at the basis of things, hence the refraction. The apostle Paul says that creation is all out of gear and twisted; it is 'waiting for the manifestation of the sons of God.' In the meantime, the problem remains."
Another stock answer to Christian suffering has to do with perspective. And it certainly has Scriptural basis. Paul also said that the sufferings of this present time were not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in us. And there is nothing to which we hold tighter. But, the expectation is that this hope and belief should never allow us to be discouraged.
Buck up, it'll be over.
But if an eternal perspective is supposed to give us perpetual buoyancy, then why was Jesus so fearful in the Garden of Gethsemane?
The thing I wish to get across is honesty.
Be honest with God. Be plaintive. Tell Him how you feel. Job did.
Chambers makes a great point of Job's honesty: "Job stuck steadily to facts, not to consistency to his creed. Over and over again a man is said to be a disbeliever when he is simply outgrowing his creed. It is a most painful thing for a man to find that his stated views of God are not adequate. Never tell a lie for the honour of God; it is an easy thing to do."
In saying that Job stuck to the facts, Chambers is pointing out that Job refused to sugarcoat anything, refused to shoulder some mantle of Stoicism. Job insisted, "Thou knowest that I am not wicked; and there is none that can deliver out of Thine hand. Thine hands have made me and fashioned me together round about; yet Thou dost destroy me." Job 10:7,8
Job's friends recoiled at such irreverence and retreated to their dogged creeds and respective defenses of God.
I have been cautiously listening to a recently released album by Steven Curtis Chapman. If you don't know, on May 21st, 2008, Chapman's youngest daughter was accidentally struck and killed by an SUV driven by another of Chapman's children.
I listen cautiously because I don't particularly wish to be ambushed by the pain that I know lurks in the depths of Chapman's heart. I won't say that the tone of the album is heart-breaking, because that would be putting it lightly. A World on the Web contributor actually criticized the album for being too painful.
Among all the other songs about which I could write for hours, there is a particularly gut-wrenching, muted declaration in which Chapman literally sounds as if he can barely muster the will to utter the words.
When you think you've hit the bottom, and the bottom gives way,
And you fall into a darkness no words can explain
You don't know how you make it out alive,
Jesus will meet you there
When the doctor says, 'I'm sorry, we don't know what else to do',
And you're looking at you family, wondering how they'll make it through,
Whatever road this life takes you down,
Jesus will meet you there
He knows the way to wherever you are,
He knows the way to the depths of your heart
He knows the way, 'cause He's already been where you're going
Jesus will meet you there.
When the jury says 'Guilty', and the prison doors close
When the one you love says nothing, but just packs up and goes
Sunlight comes and your worlds still dark,
Jesus will meet you there
When you've failed again and all your second chances have been used
And the heavy weight of guilt and shame is crushing down on you
And all you have is one last cry for help
Jesus will meet you there
When you realize dreams you've had for your child won't come true
When the phone rings in the middle of the night with tragic news
Whatever valley you must walk through
Jesus will meet you there.