27 November 2013

all is bright 1

It was a time of great upheaval and unrest.  The political landscape was dominated by ever-increasing threats, both from the internal moral corruption of the nation's leadership, as well as from the external threats of a hostile emperor's bent on worldwide conquest.  It seemed, even among those who believed that God was the sovereign ruler of the universe, that the world was an unstable place.  Perhaps if you had the means to weather such storms - to play the political and financial games of survive-and-thrive - you could preserve yourself and your family when these circumstances would inevitable come crashing down.  But that sort of 'comfort' was reserved only for the very rich, while the average person was simply working to make it through today, with very little thought being given for tomorrow.

Immorality, corruption and greed were the winning hands of the day, or so it appeared.  Dishonest practices abounded in business and commerce as well, to the point where it made a mockery of the dedication of hard-working men and women who thought it right to color inside the lines of truth and honesty.

In the king's court there were prophets; the monarch was surrounded by the religious tradition that was established to safeguard God's covenant as it played out in state business.  But, as they had gone to the capital it seems that these so-called prophets became more concerned with the lining of their own pockets, through the participation of state public relations campaigns, helping to sell whatever political agenda was needed by those seeking to gain, or maintain, their power.  When all was said and done these false voices would be exposed by the truth - blinded by their own greed to the point where they could not see the imminent disaster that was to overtake them all.

This nation - the one that was supposed to be the chosen people of Almighty God - appeared outwardly to be religious and devout.  The temple cult was active, sacrifices were being made, and they knew how to espouse properly sounding theology.  But, somewhere in the midst of it all, they had replaced God's morality with one of their own.  It had become a time when everyone worked to gain the best position for themselves, and the successes they had brought for themselves led them to trust in their own self-asserted importance.  They believed that they were strong enough to withstand any force that would rise up against them.  And, as everyone knew, they had God on their side at all times, even in the midst of national apostasy.

So they foolishly set out to match strength with strength.  Along the way, they also matched religion with religion, becoming quite cosmopolitan and sophisticated in their acceptance and tolerance of other religious beliefs.  After all, what good is it to appear as close-minded and shallow rubes while trying to establish oneself on the world stage of politics and government?  These were the days of an elitist leadership, and those who were too simple-minded to support the current administration - in courts of both king and temple - were simply written off and marginalized by their own fellow countrymen.

It was out of this context that a voice began to make itself heard.  Actually, there were a few voices that echoed through the Judean hills in those days.  These were men who did not participate in the modus operandi of the statist system that had emerged over the past generations.  Our modern culture would do well to listen for these voices once agin, though one in particular is worth considering on its own.

He was recognized as a prophet; he was one of those charismatic voices that stood within the great tradition of speaking on behalf of God to the nation (and to the world).  But he was also an outsider to the great halls where the 'real business' of the country occurred.  He was more at home among his hometown farming community than he was in the king's court, though he would soon prove that he could hold his own in either situation.  No doubt he was made into an easy target by those who were more 'sophisticated' than he (which might just be a polite way of saying that they were corrupted elitists who no longer listened for the voice of truth and reason).

In any event, this man came to the great city and shared his prophetic voice.  Jerusalem, a great city that had already mushroomed to over three or four times its former size because of the fear that overwhelms those in unstable circumstances.  Of course, the political machine would hail this as a sign that things were on the right track.  But, in reality, the nation couldn't handle the extra burden of these refugees and aliens.  This would prove to be yet another piece of the coming catastrophe.  Yet it was in these days that Micah came to preach, and he gave a stirring message that everyone needs to hear when faced with such an overwhelming circumstance: he spoke a word of doom, and he spoke a word of hope.

Read Micah 1:1-7

Whenever we hear the word of God we engage a spiritual filter: we readily accept those words of blessing as promises meant for us, and we readily assign those words of judgment as indications that other people will need to get their act together.  This passage plays off of this reality, for it begins as a message that is quite vague in its recipients, though there is a great urgency in it's call to listen ("Look!).  We are meant to grab the immediacy of these words, for God is coming to earth and everything that now is will crumble before his awesome presence.  When this happens it will appear as though all hell is breaking loose, unless you have eyes to see that it is the presence of Almighty God that melts away all of the corruption that has for so long established itself as 'just the way things are.'  While the ruling class and false prophets will struggle to make sense of the collapse, Micah clearly identifies a God marching on like a warrior who will not be stopped.

The surprise twist in this passage is that, while Micah ultimately preaches to the whole world, it is the people of God (presently divided into two nations) that will experience the terrible events that are to come.  It is true that that the nations of the world will face this coming experience, but it appears that judgment is beginning within the house of God.

On what charges?  Those will be laid out in detail over the course of Micah's message - the people of God have failed to be morally and ethically committed to the covenant.  For now, however, the message is clear.  Shocking, but clear: the judgment of God is about to fall on this nation, and the only way to escape his fiery wrath is to repent from the current course and return hearts to him.  In the description of Samaria's destruction, there is only mentioned idolatry.  This is interesting, for that seems to be the underlying theme of all of the corruption that is plaguing this nation - the placement of money, land, power, achievement and legacy have all pushed out our desire for God's presence.

Micah's message shows how God will step into our world and exact judgment on the immorality and corruption.  The details of this passage describe a theophany - a visible manifestation of God.  Once the world has been made right again will God begin the work of reestablishing the kingdom he has given over to his people.

Years after these words were proclaimed in the ancient land, to capitals who had spread their corruption throughout the cities and towns that were to be inhabited by God's own people, there would be another visible manifestation of God given to humanity.  It would achieve the same doom and hope that Micah describes, although in a way that would require eyes to see and ears to hear the sights and sounds of heaven.  And the sudden appearance of God to our world would once again shake us forward and shake us free into the new world of his kingdom.

It is no secret that we live in turbulent times, filled with greed and corruption from the highest levels to the cities and towns across our nation.  The more it is institutionalized, the less we feel the outrage and shock of our own behavior.  Our leadership has become so corrupted that it cannot tell its right hand from its left, acting as though this is some sort of game without consequences while so many families are hurting and struggling to make it through one more day.  There is a desperate need for hope in our world.  We might be the 'unsophisticated' simpletons who hold to what our culture identifies as 'ridiculous' notions of biblical truth and gospel, but public perception does not invalidate the power of the truth.  (Some, like the apostle Paul, might even think that such perception serves to prove the truth.)

No longer can the people of God be silent.  The darkness working within our culture is aware of the stakes, and that is why we see a manifested war on Christmas happening around us.  We must always remember that Christmas is a moral statement that, from its origins, challenges the powers of the world and asserts the transformative presence of God's kingdom and messiah.  Today we are in the throws of a crisis, being promised a utopia beyond every bend.  While we presently witness the waking up to the reality that the emperor doesn't really have any clothes, we will also see the destruction of that which is corrupt - a clearing of the ground - so that God can once more build his kingdom in our midst.

These are the necessary words of doom and hope, and the church needs to be clear in presenting the two options to our fellow countrymen.  The Christmas decision will be to turn our hearts back to Almighty God.  This is more important than any court case, legislation, or election.  Advent is the season to prepare for his coming, and we as his people are being summoned to enact his presence as a bright light shining into the midst of a dark and raging world.

To know that all is calm, all is bright.

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