Summary: The church in America may be struggling - but the Church of Jesus Christ is doing just fine, thank you. The worse things look, the more likely it is that God is about to do something amazing.
Ray Bakke, the Executive Director of International Urban Associates, tells a great story from World War II. An American named MacDonald and a Scottish chaplain bailed out behind German lines, were captured and put into a prison camp, with MacDonald in the American barracks and the chaplain with the Brits. The Germans had put a wire fence between the American and British prisoners, and it was impossible for the two sides to communicate privately. But the Americans had managed to put together a homemade radio and were able to get news from the outside, more precious in a prison camp even than food. And every day MacDonald and the Scot would meet at the fence and exchange a brief greeting. Since the two men spoke Gaelic, which the Germans couldn’t understand, the greeting consisted largely of the latest headline. Finally the news came that the war was over; the German High Command had surrendered. After MacDonald had transmitted the news to his friend, he watched him disappear into the British barracks. A moment later, a roar of celebration came from the barracks. The camp was transformed. Men sang and shouted, waving and smiling at the bewildered guards. When the news finally filtered down to the guards three nights later, they simply walked away from their posts, leaving the gates unlocked. The next morning, the prisoners walked out as free men. But if you stop and think about it, they had actually been set free three days earlier - simply by knowing the truth: the war was over.
The great thing about having read the Bible - and especially the book of Revelation - is that we are not only unsurprised by the conflicts and disasters the world continually faces, we know how it all comes out in the end. Remember the story outline that I gave you a few weeks ago: God is in charge, we live on a battlefield, and Jesus wins. So just as the men in that German prison camp could shrug off the few remaining days of imprisonment, even though the guards and dogs were still around, we too can take all the turmoil in our world in stride because we know that it’s just a matter of time before the gates to our prison will also be opened. We can’t open the door ourselves, but we know that there is not a thing the enemy can do to foil the escape plan already set in motion.
The German martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote to his fiancée from prison that “A prison cell, in which one waits, hopes, does various unessential things, and is
completely dependent on the fact that the door of freedom has to be opened ‘from the outside,’ is not a bad picture of Advent.” And so it is entirely appropriate to be swept into Advent by the final pictures John gives us in his Revelation.
How many of you have heard about Lt. Gen. William Boykin’s recent statement that the war against terror is in fact a religious war, with our true enemy being Satan himself? Military analyst and editorial writer William M. Arkin is very troubled by this, as well as by Boykin’s belief that it is God, not the American electorate, who is responsible for the fact that Bush is president. But that’s not all that alarms Mr. Arkin, whose recent LA Times article goes on to say, “Boykin has made it clear that he takes his orders not from his Army superiors but from God – which is a worrisome line of command.” How shocking - that a military officer should acknowledge an ultimate moral authority! Doesn’t Arkin and those like him recognize that recognizing a higher authority is the only sure guarantee that someone can’t excuse atrocities by saying “I was only following orders...” Well, these shocking statements have landed the General in big media trouble.
Because it is popular to believe that the phrase “Holy War” is an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms, a logical impossibility. Many Christian congregations refuse to sing Onward Christian Soldiers, or Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus, Ye Soldiers of the Cross, because they are unable to reconcile their allegiance to the prince of peace with the martial fervor and military metaphors of these great hymns.
And yet here is Jesus appearing as a great warrior, a triumphant warrior. And rather than being something to fear, it is something we should anticipate with eagerness and hope, as Paul wrote to Titus who was experiencing more than a little difficulty with his unruly congregation on the island of Crete. “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all, training us to renounce impiety and
worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly, while we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. [Titus 2:11-13] The sure hope of the second coming of Christ is what keeps us on track in the present age.