Tuesday, December 15, 2015

What ISIS Can Teach Us About The True Meaning Of Christmas

I don't have much time to compose this, so it's going to be really slapdash. Sorry!

- Many Americans think of "the true meaning of Christmas" as something to do with the spirit of giving and spending quality time with loved ones. More-religious types often point out that it's "really"about the birth of Jesus. Very few discuss the connection between the festival's pagan roots as a winter solstice celebration and the traditional Christian understanding that the time leading up to Christmas is actually a season called "Advent" (NOT Christmastide), which is a time of looking forward to the end of the world (Armageddon).

- Christians adopted and adapted the pagan winter solstice festival as a time of celebrating the first advent of the Messiah and anticipating his second coming because the original meaning of the holiday was the hope of light and life returning to a world shrouded in darkness and death. Advent was traditionally a solemn season wherein people felt more keenly aware of the world's need of a savior.

- ISIS is actually much closer than many Christians to getting into the true spirit of Christmas. Most American Christians have no burning desire to see Christ return because they are so comfortable with the way things are now. They are aware that other people are facing problems, but their preferred response to this is to denounce from a place of complacent indolence the "bad people" whom they blame for all the world's problems. They may be blaming terrorists, members of an opposing political party, corporations, politicians, immigrants--you name it. As long as it is someone other than themselves, they can continue living the same way they always have and feel no compulsion to make significant sacrifices.

- Members of ISIS, on the other hand, are people who feel profoundly the world's need of political, economic, and spiritual renewal. They are experiencing so deeply the world's need for radical transformation that they are willing to make the ultimate sacrifice in order to hasten its coming. Strange as it may sound, that is about as close to the true meaning of Christmas as it gets.

- On the other hand, trying to hasten Armageddon by killing people is about as far from the true meaning of Christmas as it gets. Clearly, their methods are shockingly evil. Westerners are generally agreed on that.

- But if we dismiss members of ISIS as out-and-out evil people with not a shred of humanity left in them, we will fail to learn the vital lesson they have to teach us. The fact is, they are a mixture of good and evil, just like us. They have some noble hopes and worthy aspirations, just like us. And they are making some fatal mistakes, just like us.

- Americans desperately need to wake up to the fact that our secure and comfortable lifestyles are artificially produced at the expense of countless living beings, from the sweatshop workers who make our clothes to the cows held in pens so small they can't turn around; from the "collateral damage" of "precision drone strikes" to the ailing honey bee.

- We will not be able to overcome our enemies until we understand them--and until we are able to see ourselves in them. Often times people take up causes by making an "I am" statement that identifies them with the victim of some kind of injustice. I think it would be even better (but probably way too spiritually advanced for the general population to understand) if people were to start saying "I am [insert name of person who committed an atrocity]." The fact is, we are all one. The darkness we see in the hearts of mass murderers is a part of all of us. And WE are making the world a terrible place of pain and suffering every day with hundreds of little decisions.

- Here's something more to the true meaning of Christmas that ISIS cannot teach us because they don't know the Lord Jesus: the kingdom of God is going to come like a thief in the night, in a manner that people do not expect. Even now, the new world order is growing like a tiny seed in the hearts of people who have beaten their swords into plowshares. God himself is hastening the second coming by turning people away from the ways of hatred and violence, softening the soil of our souls so that something fresh and new can grow. It is not our job to violently impose our will upon others. Instead, we will see the life of Christ springing up again and again when we return goodness for evil and return hatred for love. The good news is that just like the latent spring beneath a winter frost, as the world hurtles along the course of its destiny, it's already happening and nothing to can stop it.

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