Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Blowing The Embers

Last year the historian Simon Schama gave a talk about his most recent book which was a history of the Jewish people.  He shared his conviction that anti-semitism was on the increase.  He memorably described it a ‘a gathering, hideous drum-roll.’  The reasons for this are complex but he mentioned the contribution that religious extremism played, something that many historians had failed to foresee.  He cited the eminent historian, Eric Hobsbawm.  Schama heard him give a lecture sometime in the 1960s in which he cast a rather gloomy eye on the future but stated confidently: ‘At least we don’t have to be worried about religious extremism.’  Yet it is this which is casting a shadow over many lives at this moment in time.  

This is not to hold Hobsbawn and others up to ridicule.  Those with the surest grasp of human history could not have predicted the events that have caused so much pain recently in France and other parts of the world.   Human wisdom, however, is limited.  Many predictions concerning the future have been realized and celebrated but there is much that that has been unexpected and horrifying.  

Christians find the horrors of human experience as unsettling as anyone.  Jesus himself stood before the tomb of a friend and was deeply disturbed.  Yet we still speak of hope.  Joseph Conrad once wrote of a great European city as ‘a cruel devourer of the world’s light’.  There are movements amongst us that could be described in this way but still we proclaim the hope established by the Apostle John: ‘The light shines through the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.‘   Jesus showed a way to live that challenges the darkness but in His death and resurrection He showed that the days of darkness are numbered.  As He stood before his disciples as the Risen Lord He showed them their destiny.  He was the first-born of a new humanity which would inhabit a new creation with the darkness of sin and death flushed out forever.   The Apostle Paul saw human history moving towards that great climax.  Now it is as if creation is in the throes of child-birth but the day has been appointed for the new creation to be revealed.  

It is with this faith that we go forward and not as a people passively waiting for everything to work out as promised.  We are called to live now as it will be then.  We are called to be a people who show the world what the Kingdom will be when it comes.  We are called to stand against the devourers of the light with the love of Christ which alone can radically transform priorities, attitudes, relationships and breathe decisively on the embers of hope.  

I saw this in practice in the words of the French journalist Antoine Leiris whose wife was killed in the attack on the Bataclan theatre:

‘On Friday night you stole the life of an exceptional being, the love of my life, the mother of my son, but you won't have my hatred.
I don't know who you are and I don't want to know - you are dead souls. If this God for which you kill indiscriminately made us in his own image, every bullet in the body of my wife will have been a wound in his heart.
So no, I don't give you the gift of hating you. You are asking for it but responding to hatred with anger would be giving in to the same ignorance that made you what you are. You want me to be afraid, to view my fellow countrymen with mistrust, to sacrifice my freedom for security. You have lost.
I saw her this morning. Finally, after many nights and days of waiting. She was just as beautiful as when she left on Friday night, just as beautiful as when I fell hopelessly in love over 12 years ago.
Of course I'm devastated with grief, I admit this small victory, but it will be short-lived. I know she will accompany us every day and that we will find ourselves in this paradise of free souls to which you'll never have access.
We are two, my son and I, but we are stronger than all the armies of the world. I don't have any more time to devote to you, I have to join Melvil who is waking up from his nap. He is barely 17-months-old. He will eat his meals as usual, and then we are going to play as usual, and for his whole life this little boy will threaten you by being happy and free. Because no, you will not have his hatred either. ‘
The Season approaches when we remember the birth of our Saviour Jesus.  The ancient people of Israel were encouraged to think of the Messiah as the Prince of Peace.  Let everything within us focus on the truths concerning Him that will bring us peace as individuals and enable us to be that light of the world that He has called us to be.