One of the responses to my last blog entry asked the question, “What then are we to do?” The world is in such a mess, can there be any hope for this and future generations? Even this week the papers have rejoiced to headline how Christianity is now being systematically marginalised in the UK. Less than 0.5% of the Christmas Cards on sale at our major supermarkets bore any relation whatsoever to the real facts of Christmas. Some of the most popular anti-religious cards are also, unashamedly, the most openly vulgar and obscene.
People who profess to believe in the Christian story are supposedly irrelevant fringe freaks. Their critics are saying things like, “why should we pander to their weird beliefs by showing any respect for Jesus?” The picture is indeed black and bleak – and I’m not drawing attention to these things because I’m a depressed sort of personality who can never see the good in anything – actually, I’m the very opposite! But I am deeply concerned with truth and reality.
But before you dismiss me as a gloom-merchant, come with me to a remote corner of the angelic realms somewhere about the date we know as 4 BC. Two angels are looking at the darkness that surrounds the mess the world is in. They shake their heads in dismay, their wings hanging limply as if they hadn’t been called on to serve mankind for a very long time.
These were some of the darkest years in history. 500 years had passed since the last of God’s real prophets had told the world that one day the “sun of righteousness would rise with healing in its wings” (Malachi 4:2). Since then generation after generation had ignored the God of their fathers. And what was left of the religious leaders were so legalistic that no ordinary person could ever be good enough for God. Immorality, violence, rebellion, apostasy, idolatry and a return to the old pagan gods had become the way of the people. Life was literally hell on earth.
The angels were dismayed at what they saw and without actually questioning God’s wisdom, they did get pretty close to thinking that if God didn’t act soon, it would just be too late! But just as they were about to enter another round of angelic gloominess, there was an almighty stirring of the spiritual atmosphere. The sense of spiritual authority being exercised and the sound of Gabriel’s wings in action were unmistakeable. Something was happening and they watched from their perch on the edge of Heaven’s ramparts as Gabriel swooped down from heaven’s glory towards a remote village in northern Israel. The angels had to consult their gazetteer to identify it as Nazareth.
Why would the great Archangel Gabriel be visiting Nazareth? “Why not Jerusalem?” they asked? They watched in awed suspension as Gabriel made himself presentable to human-kind and stood before a young unmarried woman, Mary by name, and gave her a message (Luke 1:30-35) from the throne-room of Heaven, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favour with God. You will be with child and give birth to a Son, and you are to give him the name of Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most high. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, his kingdom will never end.”
“How will this be” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.”
And so it was that it was at the end of a season of great darkness that Jesus, our Saviour and Messiah came into the world. And so it will be again that at the end of another period of great darkness that this same Messiah and Saviour will come again. It will be, says Scripture, as it was in the days of Noah (Luke 17:26-30) when the Son of Man is revealed once again as the King of the Kingdom that has no end. Today all moral boundaries are systematically being removed from the societies of the world – the days of Noah are upon us once again. Rebellion and apostasy, heresy and atheistic humanism are climbing on the throne provided for them by the god of this world. And I just have a suspicion that our two angels are sitting on those same ramparts of Heaven with a profound sense of déjà vu – and are saying we’ve been here before!
The incredible good news for those who are in Christ is that as the darkness gets darker so the day of His coming gets nearer. There’s an old hymn my father used to sing as he contemplated the coming again of his Lord. He sang it with a certainty in his eyes and his voice that knew the days are hastening on when all the world will see the coming glory of the King – and for those who know Him – what an incredible moment that is going to be! At that moment the darkness around us will be irrelevant.
There’s a light upon the mountains,
And the day is at the spring,
When our eyes shall see the beauty
And the glory of the King:
Weary was our heart with waiting,
And the night watch seemed so long,
But His triumph day is breaking
And we hail it with a song.
In the fading of the starlight
We may see the coming morn;
And the lights of men are paling
In the splendours of the dawn;
For the eastern skies are glowing
As with light of hidden fire,
And the hearts of men are stirring
With the throbs of deep desire.
There’s a hush of expectation
And a quiet in the air
And the breath of God is moving
In the fervent breath of prayer;
For the suffering, dying Jesus
Is the Christ upon the throne,
And the travail of our spirit
Is the travail of His own.
He is breaking down the barriers,
He is casting up the way;
He is calling for His angels
To build up the gates of day:
But His angels here are human,
Not the shining hosts above;
For the drum beats of His army
Are the heartbeats of our love.
Hark! we hear a distant music
And it comes with fuller swell;
’Tis the triumph song of Jesus,
Of our King, Immanuel!
Go ye forth with joy to meet Him!
And, my soul, be swift to bring
All thy sweetest and thy dearest
For the triumph of our King! (adapted from word by Henry Burton)
So, as we contemplate the babe of Bethlehem this Christmas season, remember those two angels that sit in a corner of my imagination, and keep your ear attuned to the distant music as it comes with fuller swell, ‘tis the triumph song of Jesus, Of our King, Immanuel. I am not afraid of the darkness, because the Light is coming.
I pray you will have a wonderful Christmas, even in the midst of the world’s darkness, as you celebrate the One who came two thousand years ago and look forward with great joy, in the midst of the darkness, to the One who is coming again. May the joy of knowing Him be truly yours and may He be with you every step of the way, whatever 2012 holds for you in the year ahead.