News headlines throughout 2016 were unrelentingly mortifying, bleak and despairing. Just this week - a Russian ambassador assassinated live on camera in Turkey, shoppers run down at a Christmas market in Berlin, a shooting at a mosque in Switzerland, and the endless bombing of Syria. It is easy to conclude from these headlines that evil has triumphed emphatically over the forces of love, peace and hope, and it is no surprise that one of the trending hashtags to close out the year is simply "#f_ck2016" (you fill in the missing vowel).
Beyond the wishfully dismissive hashtag, the real problem is that no one actually thinks that 2017 will be any better. And why would it be? As families unite this week to celebrate Christmas hoping to bury the headlines under glad tidings of comfort and joy, many others are simply wondering aloud: Where does our hope come from? How will humanity ever find peace? And why are humans dead-set on killing each other no matter what? Is anyone realistically looking to Donald Trump for hope, peace, or greater global stability?
Amid the search for answers, it is no secret that "being religious" has gone out of style. But somehow, "being spiritual" is considered socially acceptable, so long as you do not push your particular interpretations on others. In Western society, the result is a mish-mash of relativist spiritual theories, and a deference to the Goddess of Blind Tolerance, whose belief system offers zero hard answers to the complex questions above.
In the spirit of tolerance, here is an idea for you to tolerate over the holidays: there is indeed hope for humanity, and there are answers to these questions, and both can be found through belief in Jesus Christ alone. For those who consider themselves 'spiritual, but not religious', the next logical question is: so who is Jesus Christ? This question is about far more than whether or not you 'go to church', and the answer cuts to the philosophical core of modern society.
Over 2000 years ago in a manger in Bethlehem, a baby boy, Jesus of Nazareth, was born. Jesus' existence is a historical fact, one that is as well documented as that of the life of Julius Caesar. The Islamic and Hindu traditions respect and revere Jesus, the former even regarding him as a prophet. Today, it is not a question of whether Jesus existed, but rather: do you believe what Jesus said?
What Jesus said about himself and about life is simple, as found in the Gospel of John, chapter 14:6:
"I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me."
Jesus' absolutist statement offends most people today, in an era of limitless knowledge that is somehow dominated by fake news. We have been left chasing an unquenchable thirst for truth, while ignoring the one who said, "I am the truth."
When Jesus declared who He is, He offered a stark choice for all humanity, and this is particularly relevant during the Christmas season when Christians celebrate the miraculous birth of Jesus Christ. The fateful choice is whether or not Jesus was in fact who He claimed to be: the saviour of all mankind through His death on the cross for our sins, and His resurrection from the dead three days later.
It matters greatly what we think about the historical person of Jesus Christ. Author C.S. Lewis put it this way:
"A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic -- on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg -- or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice."
But if in fact Jesus is the Son of God, as He claims to be, then you, the reader, must seriously ask yourself what it means for your life. His claims do not leave room for merely "respecting" Him as a teacher. To over a billion Christians around the world - approximately one in every seventh person - Jesus means many things: He is hope, joy, love, peace, tender-heartedness, kindness, humility, and courage. These values and virtues are sorely missing from so much of the world today.
In fact the opposite of these virtues appear to be on the march. The forces of darkness are strong, vicious, and advancing with murderous intent; the prospect of greater global conflict practically feels inevitable, and of course, we all must work to avoid that. But at this point in human history, there is no room for fence-sitting on issues of the heart and soul. Indeed, Jesus made this clear in Matthew 10:34-39 when He said:
"Don't imagine that I came to bring peace to the earth! I came not to bring peace, but a sword. [...] If you refuse to take up your cross and follow me, you are not worthy of being mine. If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for me, you will find it."
While we celebrate the joy of the Christmas season, represented by the birth of the Christ child, the verse above cannot simply be dismissed. We face a tremendously uncertain future and the persistent reminder of the existence of evil, manifest by the demonic spiritual force known as the Islamic State.
The headlines of 2017 are practically bound to be worse. Deep at its collective core, humanity is being forced to make a decision about the overarching and fundamental worldview that every human embraces. We either live in a universe that is ruled by God, whose plan and hope for humanity is found in the salvation Gospel of Jesus Christ; or, we live in a world that is ruled by the strongmen of the day, by selfish ambition and materialist pursuits, and is governed by failing international institutions - a world without hope. For where could hope ever come from if the majority of humanity rejects the one man - Jesus Christ - whose message was pure hope? Such a hopeless world is one that is destined for the destruction that we continue to witness.
But we are not without options. For Jesus said at John 14:27:
"I am leaving you with a gift--peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don't be troubled or afraid."
The Christmas story is God's bold, annual reminder, one which many of us celebrate but fail to commit to, that God did and does have a plan for salvation and hope for every human. We are so easily distracted by the wonders of this life that we ignore at our peril, and to our despair, the deep spiritual hunger inside every human soul.
It has been said that there is a God-shaped void inside every human heart. We long to know truth, to know hope, and to understand our purpose in this brief life. Jesus said at John 10:10:
"The thief's purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life."
Jesus knows that every human longs for complete satisfaction of the heart and soul, and for genuine hope. God offers that through the gift of salvation in Jesus Christ. Mercifully, God made this free gift available to all. As Romans 10:9 says:
"If you openly declare that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved."
May you find Jesus Christ and His free gift of hope, love and peace this Christmas season
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