We’ve just celebrated the first Advent of our Lord, and in the New Year we wait for the Second Advent. The Heavy lifting has been done. The child born … finally said, “It is finished!” Then, on the third day he was not there but he was here, with us, still Immanuel.
God with us, present, powerfully at work advancing the Kingdom of God, which already claims all the other kingdoms of this world. In a sense already they have become the Kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever (Rev. 11:15). We begin the New Year eager to say, “Jesus is Lord!”
But, of course, Jesus is King over a very different kind of kingdom, with ambiguous, uncertain, sometimes puzzling relationships with the other kingdoms that have already “met their match.” So we believe. Yet, to look at the world in 2015 we might wonder, “Who is king? Who is in charge? How? Where? When?” These questions persist, even though the story of Jesus Messiah’s birth provide the answer!
The day before Christmas, 2014, Reuters News ran an article entitled: “The so-called Islamic State is even worse than you thought.” It begins: “here is a cheery thought for the end of the year: ISIS is even more dangerous than you thought.” So concludes German writer and political activist, Juergen Todenhoefer, who had recently spent time in the city of Mosul, in Northern Iraq. He expected to encounter a brutal terrorist group, but instead met what he calls a “brutal country.”
Todenhoefer, 74, is a veteran journalist who has covered many wars. As he talked with members of I.S., he discovered an enthusiasm and hope among them which seemed unprecedented. They are so sure they will win this war, Todenhoefer reports, win the whole of the Middle East, and beyond. Everyday hundreds of new recruits arrive for training. Far from being “losers,” these recruits are bright, well-educated young people with all the signs of the most promising futures. One young man just graduated from a major western university and turned down lucrative job offers in order to join the cause, to fight for I.S. (As I read this I recalled years ago hearing such stories of heroic commitment among young communists!)
I.S. members are extremists and normally do not enjoy support even from other Sunni, fellow members of their branch of Islam. In Iraq, however, they are supported because the Shia (another branch) government discriminates against them, a government that most western nations support.
Todenhoefer is “confounded and deeply disturbed” that I.S. pursues its violent ways in direct violation of the Quran’s insistence that Allah is “the most merciful One.” “Where’s the mercy?” he asks. He then concludes that the only hope for defeating I.S. is that some moderate group from within will rise up to stop them. Only Arab Muslims can stop I.S., if it can be stopped.
Now, at the very beginning of a New Year, we are reminded that the I.S. is not the only perpetrator menacing the world scene with terror. We have all seen video of the attacks on the writers of the French magazine, Charlie Hebdo, and now in their wake, many feel growing anxiety that would-be insurgents, or sleeper-cells already in position with a plan, will be emboldened to strike—who knows where and when!
No one would deny the seriousness of these movements that sandwich our recent Advent celebrations. Even so, a little historical perspective helps followers of Jesus tremendously. One doesn’t have to search long or hard to identify a number of other nations, powers, tribes—all fueled by a sense of destiny, by a god or gods who embolden their most ferocious and barbaric policies against all who oppose them. Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece (Alexander), Egypt, Syria, Rome, Nazis, USSR, and a number of other powers from the East, lesser known to us. The lists go on.
If you set the recent rise or outbreak of horrifying acts from I.S. and others within the larger, long list of nations once thought unstoppable, whose brutal ways terrified their world at the time, we can see, I think:
- I.S. is not the first; and likely not the last.
- I.S. will likely go the way of all the others who fell, sometimes suddenly and shockingly.
- I.S. will, like many before it, most likely suffer collapse more than conquest. And, …
- I.S. will leave behind people who could pursue a better way, if only there were one at hand.
Followers of Jesus would, with humility, add to these observations that the movement of Jesus has outlasted every rival terror regime, no matter the power it wielded in its day. The movement of Jesus has even penetrated and subverted some of those power-regimes and literally took them over (as in the case of Rome). In fact, the movement of Jesus has contributed to the exposure and overthrow of many totalitarian, terrorist regimes in its 2000 year history.
In the days that follow Christmas and in the New Year, despite the frightening acts of some who seem willing to exact whatever suffering and pain might advance their cause, these questions remain: Who is king? Whose plan will prevail? How? When?
We followers of Jesus must know our story well. We must resist temptation, often driven by terror and fear, to think that no one has ever seen the likes of them! We must decide whether we really believe the Christmas and Easter claims we love to make, if we will live in their light, rest in their hope, and pursue the ways of the Kingdom Jesus brings. One writer described that Kingdom as unshakable. History supports the claim. Will we?