Deliverance, Survival, Endurance

This is an article about Christian discipleship which came to mind while watching the impeachment hearings. Who knew? Strange things happen.

I was struck by the courage of impeachment hearing witnesses from the senior ranks of the civil service who came forward in obedience to subpoenas, and against White House orders. With nothing to gain for themselves, and everything to lose, including the possibility of vengeful retribution on them and their families, they offered testimony in defense of our constitutional rule of law. Defending our freedoms is something Americans take seriously. We glamorize military veterans for their willingness to put themselves in harm’s way. In fact, it’s popular to attribute the existence of freedom to the force of arms carried by valiant soldiers. Not to demean the military’s well earned honor, but it’s also true that popular sentiment seldom honors those whose minds and words framed our constitutional rule of law in the first place, or whose gifts of diplomacy, policy expertise, and deep understanding of domestic and global issues have preserved and enhanced them over the centuries. Not with arms but with words and wisdom, they influence policy decisions that preserve our freedoms, while seeking to help others achieve the same for themselves. They are the architects and builders of the infrastructure needed for civil life to prosper.

The hearings got me wondering how today’s Christians who profess to follow Jesus would respond if asked to do the same in defense of their faith. What if they had little to gain, much to lose, and perhaps expose themselves to vengeful retribution in the process. In the face of determined opposition intent on their destruction, how would they perform? Or to put it more directly, how would you and I perform?

It seems like the right time to ask as we enter the season of Advent during which scripture points us toward times of tribulation in which the outcome is uncertain. The cross came before the resurrection, and we are called to follow Jesus in the way of the cross, finding in it the way of life and peace. It’s a comforting sentiment but bad things happen along the way that make life and peace seem painfully distant. Anxious anticipation inclines our prayers toward deliverance, a way to avoid threatening events and difficult decisions, a plea for harmony, peace and good things to be ours in their place. It’s easy for me to imagine it because it is certainly what I want, and I’m happy to project it as what you would want also.

Bad things happen anyway. They happen for no good reason, because of others’ actions, and, embarrassingly, because of our own poor choices. Then the more common prayer is for survival, about getting out of the mess alive, about healing and restoration. It’s often a prayer offered from a feeling of powerlessness, helplessness, perhaps as a victim of evil. It’s a normal reaction. Consider Peter’s ill fated attempt to walk on water, when sinking fast, all he could do was cry out for help, hoping for nothing better than survival. It’s nothing to be ashamed of because failure to survive eliminates all other possibilities.

But there is another sort of prayer Jesus commends to his followers, and we hear more about it during advent. It’s a prayer for the courage to endure in hope against the forces arrayed against us. Deliverance is not on the menu. The trial is to be met, and met even if a pathway to avoidance is offered. Survival is questionable, and the odds may not be in one’s favor. What is demanded is the courage to endure in hope. Hope for what? It’s not hope for a guaranteed place in heaven. That’s a gift already sealed. It is hope that what is right, good, just and loving is worth defending. They are what Jesus fearlessly did and taught to demonstrate God’s ways. They are not just good things, they are the inbreaking of the kingdom of God of which we are stewards during our earthly pilgrimage.

Advent leads us toward the babe in the manger whom we proclaim to be the Prince of Peace. It also anticipates a promised time of Jesus’ return at the end of ages. Living in between, we are to endure in continuing the work the babe began.

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