Wednesday, December 26, 2018

A New Year of Hope!

With 2018 shrinking in the review mirror, there can be absolutely no doubt that we live in a fallen world, pockmarked by sin in every corner. There are times—seeming to occur more and more often—when hope and the strength to endure get lost in the fear of terrorism, the cruelty of debilitating diseases and addictions, and the wake of destruction left behind by natural disasters. Sometimes, we feel like we just don’t have a prayer…

What can possibly be said to the parents of an infant killed during a tornado outbreak? Or to the wife of the victim of a terrorist? To the person who must helplessly watch cancer slowly steal a loved one's life?

It doesn’t seem fair to us that some are made to suffer and others are not… Though realistically, and sadly, you’d be hard-pressed to find a person alive on this Earth who has not been hurt in some way by sin…

God, who is good and does not make bad thing happens, gave us free will, the freedom to choose. And from the very git-go (see Genesis 3), we humans have been making wrong choices, the consequences of which have been compounding exponentially over the generations; today we live in a society rife with sin (war, crime, pollution, corruption, domestic abuse, infidelity, gender confusion, suicide, terrorism, pornography, destruction of the very planet we live on…the list is growing). Yet even though we often suffer at our own hand, we never suffer alone. We have a God who knows more about suffering and the bad side of our human nature than we will ever experience in a lifetime—that little baby in the manger will not only be subjected to Man’s inhumanity, he will suffer a slow and painful death with the sins of the world upon him. God in Jesus walked among us—and died for us—to save us from ourselves.

We have a God—a Savior—who knows us intimately, who has walked in our shoes (sandals), who not only can sympathize with our suffering, but can empathize. And every failure of humanity must still grieve him to his heart (see Genesis 6). Paul reminds us (as he reminded the church in Corinth) that “we share abundantly in Christ's sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-7)

Every New Year’s Day we look ahead optimistically, with hope, resolutions, and promises to do better…until the next let-down, the next affliction, the next act of violence, the next catastrophe. By the time we’re brought to our knees, barely able to cry “Uncle!”, we’re right back where we started, hope abandoned, strength sapped, demanding answers from a distant, even disinterested God. But Hope will have been there all along, riding out every storm the world brings upon us. My faith not only comforts me, but reminds me daily that we can endure and overcome because we are NEVER alone in Christ. (And my faith also reassures me that God's will will never take me where God's will can't protect me.)

One of my heroes is German pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Below is a New Year's poem of his from The Cost of Discipleship (published in 1937).

On October 5th, 1944, Bonhoeffer was transferred to the main Gestapo prison in Berlin. Although fully aware of what he had to expect there, he was perfectly calm, saying goodbye to his friends as though nothing had happened. In February, when the Gestapo prison in Berlin was destroyed by an air raid, Bonhoeffer was taken to the concentration camp of Buchenwald and from there to other places until he was executed by special order of Himmler at the concentration camp at Flossenburg on April 9th, 1945, just a few days before it was liberated by the Allies.

One of the last messages received from him was a poem composed at the Gestapo prison in Berlin during the very heavy air raids on Berlin. It was entitled "New Year 1945" and reads as follows:

With every power for good to stay and guide me,
comforted and inspired beyond all fear,
I'll live these days with you in thought beside me,
and pass, with you, into the coming year.

The old year still torments our hearts, unhastening:
the long days of our sorrow still endure.
Father, grant to the soul thou hast been chastening
that thou hast promised—the healing and the cure.

Should it be ours to drain the cup of grieving
even to the dregs of pain, at thy command,
we will not falter, thankfully receiving
all that is given by thy loving hand.

But, should it be thy will once more to release us
to life's enjoyment and its good sunshine,
that we've learned from sorrow shall increase us
and all our life be dedicate as thine.

To-day, let candles shed their radiant greeting:
lo, on our darkness are they not thy light,
leading us haply to our longed-for meeting?
Thou canst illumine e'en our darkest night.

That’s it for this month. May your 2019 be so bright (with the light of Christ, that is) that you have to wear shades!

The Lord bless you and keep you,

Pastor E.B.