Life has been too busy of late for me to blog. Worse, I’m afraid I let my busyness keep me from even reading, until today, this post that Mom prepared a month ago.
A month is a long time when your father is battling cancer. It is also a long time when your mother’s neglected post is about the questions she is asking in the shadow of death.
Mom’s post is now slightly dated. Dad has already begun chemotherapy. Thankfully, he has not had any unexpected reactions to any of his treatments. But we expect he will be tired and weak for the next six months, and the possibility of too-soon death remains very real. The heartbeat of Mom’s post is not dated at all.
I will let Mom take over from here, except to ask you to please pray for my parents (and Mom’s friend mentioned below) as autumn, and perhaps winter, nears.
An autumn/winter poem in the middle of summer? Exactly. That is the question we ask of life right now…
When Autumn Comes Too Soon
I have a dear friend in the bloom of life, serving God in the summer season of family and church and witness. But autumn has suddenly grabbed her by the ankles and abducted her away from the perfect life-cycle that ends with a gentle winter waiting for release. Her remaining allotted number of years are now counted out as weeks instead, and time has turned traitor on us all.
My husband was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma a little over four years ago. Though a bit of a roller-coaster ride, the journey has not been too arduous up till now: three radiation sessions that were well-tolerated, and continued energy and good health otherwise. Now the lumps are multiplying and growing, some threatening to obstruct his airways, and so the oncologists are advising chemotherapy. That was the bad word we hoped to push off for many years and hopefully forever. Ken will be seventy in December and feels he has reached the biblically-allotted lifespan. But seventy in our day is not old, and Ken is a youngish seventy, still working hard much of the time. We are ready for autumn, perhaps, but winter?
I have been reading Psalm 90 the past months. I call it the Angry Psalm. Is God really so angry with us as the psalmist says? I have always loved this psalm, the security of having a timeless, eternal God as our dwelling place, the unfailing love that satisfies us every morning, and yes, the poetry of the piteous, poignant images about our numbered days, our little tale acted out during our directed time on earth.
Moses is credited with writing this Psalm: “A prayer of Moses the man of God.” That made me a little angry. Moses says we are consumed by God’s anger, and troubled by His wrath. But what does he know of threescore years and ten, living as he did to one hundred and twenty, and climbing his last mountain to meet God with mind alert, limbs still rippling with powerful muscles, and eyes as clear-sighted as a hawk’s? What does he know of wits stolen while the heart still beats strong, of eyes once love-filled glazing in confusion, of aging bodies lingering endlessly in uselessness and pain, or of believers in the prime of life struck down by rampaging warring cells in their beautiful bodies?
Then I calm myself down and acknowledge all the death and suffering and pouring out of judgement that Moses witnessed during the wilderness wanderings. He knew painfully well the “labour and sorrow” that can attend the longest lifespan. There is deep pathos and empathy in this psalm, and it is a prayer, so Moses dares to be as honest as we only dare be when we are speaking to God, pouring out our hearts before Him, when we are not presuming to speak for Him to others.
“How long?” Moses asks, and humanity has been asking this, the most frequently recorded question in the Bible, since time began. We ask it when time drags too long in the agony of an endless minute of unbearable pain. Our days too can be as a thousand years. We ask it when time flies away in a heartbeat, stealing our joyful hours when they have barely begun. How long will I have to treasure this moment? And we ask it when we bow before God and ache with the puzzle of life and time, and of God’s will in His measuring and meting out of time and what it brings. Why must life be so short and our troubles so long? So often our hopes spring up new and fresh in the morning, and by evening are withered and dry.
“So teach us to number our days.” Like Abraham I bombard God with numbers in my prayers. “If 1000 years are with you as one day, would it be such a hardship to give my friend fifty more? Thirty? Twenty? Please just ten?!” Can God understand how much we can long for time—more time—to watch time unfold with our loved ones, our children? But then, do I understand how unworthy I am of even one breath of life, one moment of time?
Oh Ageless, Ancient One, You hold us in Your hands. How calmly You carry us. How angrily You consume us, mind and body, sweat and sin, turning us back to dust again. And oh, how quickly You awaken from somewhere in the back of our little wave-battered craft, to speak your transforming “Peace, be still!” into our anxiety of waiting and despair. In the twinkling of an eye, behold you come quickly.
I remember how Your Son counted out time in unbearable blistering seconds on the cross, measuring pain in the torturous traverse of the sun’s shadow on the dial, in its creeping rays across the turning earth, and in the trickle of blood and sweat down His disfigured face. He too finished his years like a tale told, a sigh, a moan. But He also finished it with a cry of victory! He had accomplished what You had assigned Him to do in His time on earth. I praise You that because of His finished work, we too can live lives that accomplish Your plan for us, whether our lifespan be long or short. Because Your Son provided forgiveness for our sin, we can be saved from wrath and live under Your favour. We can manifest Your beauty in our lives, Your glory to our children. We can safely abide in the eternal.
The following poems were written many years ago. The first one, Help Us To Not Be Afraid Of Your Will, was written in 1979 after my mother went for a biopsy of a breast lump, which thankfully turned out to be benign. The poem was written on my knees, a prayer for my mother, which I shared with her before she went to the doctor for the results. The poem meant a lot to her and so holds some nostalgia for me, despite its simplicity and lack of imagery.
In 2000–2001 I wrote a new version which I feel is better poetry: Winter Birch. However my husband says he prefers the original, that it is easier to follow. There is something about the repeated refrain, “Help us to not be afraid of Your will” that echoes the cry of the struggling soul. The most repeated command in scripture is “Fear not,” “Be not afraid.” How can we face an unexpected autumn, the chill of winter? God invites us to turn from fear to faith, from doubt to praise, and meets us with unexpected gifts in His hands. As we wait for Ken’s chemotherapy consultation we are asking God for grace to do that, and to move beyond fear and questioning to faith and hope.
—Elaine Gingrich, July 12, 2016
Dwight again: I want to underscore a pair of observations Mom shared. What is “the most frequently recorded question in the Bible”? And what is “the most repeated command in scripture”? Did you catch them? Here they are again, a painful, promising, perfectly-matched pair: “How long?” and “Fear not!”
Now on to Mom’s poems.
HELP US TO NOT BE AFRAID
When we must lay down the work in our hand
And all our projects and prospects stand still,
When our life’s pattern is not as we planned,
Help us to not be afraid of Your will.
When we stand waiting in doubt’s desert land,
Wondering if yet our life’s dreams we’ll fulfil,
When we pray, lifting our heart in our hand,
Help us to not be afraid of Your will.
When all the questions within us demand
That we find answers our deep needs to fill,
And there are reasons we don’t understand,
Help us to not be afraid of Your will.
When all alone and all trembling we stand,
Help us to feel what Your love is, until
Finally we see the good gifts in Your Hand.
Then we will not be afraid of Your will.
—Elaine Gingrich, November 1979
UPDATE: A friend of Mom named Kelsie Troyer put this poem to music and recorded herself singing it. Her musical setting is unpretentious and sincere, fitting for a prayer. Feel free to sing along:
Oh God, these winter birch that lift their limbs
Empty of obvious purpose to the skies,
Have known the autumn chill, yet raise their hymns
Of pearly praise to You. They ask no whys.
Their leaves fell too. They know of letting go.
They trembled in the blast of death’s alarms,
But do not seem afraid through wind and snow.
They wait for spring. And still they raise their arms.
And should the changing seasons strip us too
And leave us purposeless, yet, when we pray
Lifting our hearts in trembling hands to you,
We would not fear your will nor doubt your way.
Help us to praise, though scattered on the ground
Beneath us lie dear dreams and withered plans,
That like these birch that quietly astound,
We look up fearless with faith-lifted hands.
—Elaine Gingrich, June 1, 2000/January 2001
For the rest of the poems in this monthly series, see here.
And if you enjoyed these poems, or want to show your support for Mom and Dad in this difficult season, leave a comment here for Mom, or send her an email at . Thanks!
[This post was published by the Mennonite World Review on “The World Together Blog.”]
Recent events have reminded me that being a peacemaker involves more than just being “the quiet in the land.” It also involves speaking up.
In summary, here is the three-part story I’m telling in this post:
(1) Conservative Reformed Christians in American are currently having a debate about Christians and the use of deadly force. Some of us Anabaptists spoke up and got a bit of public notice, and now I am praying that this will help more of our Reformed brothers and sisters embrace the way of suffering love more fully.
(2) What is the proper way for “the quiet in the land” to speak up?
(3) How can we do a better job of maintaining our nonresistant heritage right in our own Anabaptist churches?
Perhaps you’ve heard about it: Jerry Falwell, Jr., president of Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va. (reportedly the largest Evangelical Christian university in the world), has been in the news for his statement to students at a school convocation. With a chuckle and an insinuation that he was carrying a gun in his back pocket at that very moment, Falwell said the following to much applause:
I’ve always thought that if more good people had concealed-carry permits, then we could end those Muslims before they walked in…
Facing media backlash, Falwell later clarified his comments. But the substance of his position remained the same, and he provided a very questionable interpretation for the only biblical reference he provided in his explanation:
It just boggles my mind that anybody would be against what Jesus told His disciples in Luke 22:36: He told them if they had to sell their coat to buy a sword to do it because He knew danger was coming, and He wanted them to defend themselves.
John Piper, author, chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary, and former pastor at Bethlehem Baptist in Minneapolis, Mn., was troubled by Falwell’s words, so he dialogued with Falwell in private and then wrote an article in response:
This article is about the people whom the Bible calls “refugees and exiles” on earth; namely, Christians. It’s about the fact that our weapons are not material, but spiritual (2 Corinthians 10:4). It is an argument that the overwhelming focus and thrust of the New Testament is that Christians are sent into the world — religious and non-religious — “as lambs in the midst of wolves” (Luke 10:3). And that exhorting the lambs to carry concealed weapons with which to shoot the wolves does not advance the counter-cultural, self-sacrificing, soul-saving cause of Christ.
To be clear, Piper was not arguing for a nonresistant or even pacifist position. He still thinks soldiers and police officers may use guns, and that Christians may serve in those positions. He just doesn’t think Christians who are private citizens should be encouraged to pack guns for self-defense, and he advocates a very different tone than what Falwell used in his initial comments.
Amazingly, among his Reformed peers and many other evangelicals, Piper’s response has apparently been as controversial as Falwell’s original statements. Just now I did a Google search for “Piper” and “Should Christians Be Encouraged to Arm Themselves” (the title of Piper’s article). The first link listed is Piper’s original article. Here’s what I found in the rest of the top ten (Google order in brackets):
5 blog posts disagreeing with Piper. (2, 3, 4, 8, 10)
1 blog news post summarizing Piper’s article then tentatively affirming some rebuttals from other bloggers. (9)
Those 5 bloggers who disagree with Piper use language like this (again in Google order):
“I honestly don’t know much about the ministry or beliefs of John Piper… But going on this particular article he has written, he comes across as an anti-gun liberal to me… Lol, every liberal is a pacifist until the day their loved ones are threatened, then they want blood. John Piper is no different. If the evil he so carelessly tells us to “not worry about” and just “trust God” with ever came to land at his doorstep you can best believe his tune would change. Quickly.”
“Piper’s position as outlined is about as close as one can come to individual pacifism without saying so. His response unfortunately ignores much of the context of the New Testament passages it cites, and ignores the Old Testament entirely. As such, I not only view it as unbiblical and disagree with it strongly, I think it would be dangerous and unloving for Christians to accept in society.”
“Piper seems to lack virtually any and all discernment.”
“I think that Piper has missed the mark on this one, and I encourage wise men to carry a weapon and to do so carefully, Christologically, and only use it when needed…”
“I realize John Piper’s problem with Jerry Falwell is that Falwell was encouraging other Christians to arm themselves as American citizens. However, Piper does precisely what Falwell did; he’s encouraging Christians in America not to arm themselves. I’m doing what neither man has done. I’m telling you to follow the Spirit and do as He leads.”
The three discussion forums contain a wild mix of perspectives and generally a lot of confusion.
The one blog news post is much calmer, and it is the cause for my post here today. This post was written by the widely-followed Reformed blogger Tim Challies.
I subscribe to Challies’ emails and find the majority of them very edifying, both informative and convicting. However, when this onelanded in my inbox, I was troubled. But I also saw an opportunity as I read these words near the end of Challies’ post:
I have put little thought into the ownership and use of guns and found this discussion quite helpful in forming my thoughts. To tip my cards just a little, I find myself appreciating Piper’s efforts, especially related to demeanor and heart-attitude, but leaning more toward the points made by Wedgeworth and Thune [who both presented rebuttals to Piper].
Here is one of the most influential conservative Reformed voices, I thought, and he is just now forming his understandings regarding Christians and the use of deadly force. Perhaps we can help shape his thinking?
So I posted this on Facebook:
Suggestion: If you are a nonresistant Christian, please write a respectful “letter to the editor” to Tim Challies regarding his coverage of John Piper’s article about Christians and arms. This seems to be an opportune moment to invite our Reformed brothers and sisters to more fully embrace the way of suffering love.
I suggest you include two things in your letter:
(1) A brief response to something in Challies’ post (perhaps challenging one of the rebuttals against Piper’s article) or an affirmation of something you liked in Piper’s article.
(2) A suggestion that Challies read and review Preston Sprinkle’s book Fight: A Christian Case for Non-Violence. (http://amzn.to/1YN9aAP) If he receives a minor flood of letters recommending this book, perhaps we can convince him to read it. Imagine if he would actually start promoting it!
Then I pasted the letter that I had just written to Challies. After reading my post, several of my friends joined me, sending their own letters.
Yesterday morning I discovered that Challies had indeed published the letter that I sent—posted it on his blog and sent it to his thousands of email subscribers. I was delighted! Here is the letter, as Challies published it:
Thank you for giving John Piper’s article on Christians and arms respectful press. I found his words a refreshing breath of Christ-centered love. In response to your summary of responses, I have two thoughts:
(1) While Piper’s article is not perfect, I am disappointed that he has been charged with being “biblicistic and dependent upon a specific understanding of the relationship between the New Testament and the Old” (Wedgeworth’s words). How can it be wrong to see the new covenant as our lens for interpreting and applying the old, as Piper is trying to do? As an Anabaptist, I come from a long theological heritage of doing just this, and our people have suffered for centuries for refusing to bear the sword. I don’t think it is true that Piper “assumes that we need a direct biblical teaching on a matter in order to know whether it is morally permissible or not” (Wedgeworth’s explanation for his “biblicistic” charge). Rather, Piper is drawing biblical theological deductions from the pattern of God’s unfolding revelation, which climaxes in Christ’s defenseless self-sacrifice and his call for us to follow in his steps. This is no mere simplistic “biblicism.”
(2) Since you have expressed interest in this question of Christians and the use of force, I strongly encourage (exhort, implore, urge, beg!) you to read and review Preston Sprinkle’s book Fight: A Christian Case for Non-Violence. A complex topic like this cannot be properly addressed in a handful of short articles. Sprinkle deals with the biblical evidence from both testaments in detail, historical evidence from the early church, and the toughest practical questions from today. He says he is from your own Christian neighborhood: “The Christian subculture in which I was raised and still worship is nondenominational conservative Reformed. I’ve been influenced over the years by John Piper, John MacArthur, R. C. Sproul, and many others who swim in that pond” (from Chapter 1). So you will identify with his way of handling Scripture. And he’s thought about this for a long time, making what he calls a “reluctant journey toward nonviolence.” Piper needs to read this book (I think he’s stranded somewhat inconsistently halfway on the journey). And I think you would find it very helpful as well. Tolle lege!
—Dwight G, Leon, IA
[PS: I did change the Amazon affiliate link from Challies’ to mine. I trust that’s acceptable! 🙂 ]
A letter from one of my friends, Conrad Hertzler, was also published:
I appreciate the overall respectful tone with which you responded to John Piper’s piece “Should Christians Be Encouraged to Arm Themselves”. However, I am disappointed in the narrowness of the arguments used by cited authors in support of Christians using deadly force against attackers. It seems to be basically assumed by people holding your position that the only recourse left to a man whose wife and/or family is being attacked is to stand idly and helplessly by if he does not have a gun handy. As well, the situations which are created by proponents of deadly force are extremely hypothetical and no attempt is made to sort through all the nuances of such hypothetical situations. For a very well stated stance on the non-violent position, I would strongly encourage you to read Preston Sprinkle’s book Fight: A Christian Case for Non-Violence. Mr. Sprinkle has arrived at his position “reluctantly” and as such has though through it well. Blessings.
—Conrad H, Mozambique, Africa
All told, three of the five letters Challies published on this topic were in support of non-violence!
Now, listen closely to Challies’ reply to Conrad:
The narrowness of the articles I quoted was a reflection of the narrowness of the responses. I did not find any articles from people who agreed with Piper and extended his argument.
Read that last sentence again:
I did not find any articles from people who agreed with Piper and extended his argument.
Challies is a voracious reader, both of books and blogs. (He shares about eight recommended links nearly daily on his own blog.) Yet he did not find any articles from people who agreed with Piper!
Where are the voices in support of Christian non-violence?
To be sure, there are such voices, and they are available online. (See below.) But if Challies was not hearing voices supporting even Piper’s very incomplete embrace of non-violence, you can be sure that there are many other American Christians who have never heard a solid biblical defense of this teaching.
I believe we Anabaptists, given our unique history, are specially equipped and entrusted to carry the message of Christian non-violence, of suffering love. We have a responsibility and opportunity not only to live this message (the “quiet in the land”), but also to share it with fellow Christians.
How do we do this? My online friend Miriam Iwashige, who also wrote a letter to Challies (you can read her reflections here), acknowledged this challenge:
It’s often difficult (perhaps especially for Anabaptists?) to get exactly the right balance of truth-telling and respectful dialog.
Anabaptists have varied in their approach to public debate and influence. Many of the first Anabaptists did not hesitate to speak up:
The first generation of Anabaptists dared to challenge the policies of contemporary rulers. Menno Simons did not hesitate to argue against capital punishment and to call persons in authority to obey the will of God for their office. With his forthright, almost defiant, exhortations to magistrates, Menno stands as a prototype of prophetic witness to the state1
But prolonged persecution in the 1500s and 1600s left the Anabaptists a different people:
After this period of persecution, Mennonites kept to themselves and sought to be the “quiet in the land.” They wanted to practice their religious beliefs and social customs with as little interference as possible, but were not very active in the communities around them.2
This affected the Anabaptist approach to church planting and cultural identity:
Within the mainstream of Swiss, German, and Dutch Anabaptism, the impulse to “go forth … and establish a church” by forming new congregations in every village and town was subverted when intense persecution and other factors transformed large segments of the Anabaptist community into “the quiet in the land.” It was in the lengthening experience as relatively isolated quiet people in the country that a distinct ethnic, subcultural identity became an increasingly pervasive element in their self-consciousness as church.3
It affected evangelism and other forms of social engagement:
The period of Mennonite exclusiveness had arrived. Although severe persecution ceased, irritating discriminations by the authorities continued, and the typical Mennonite became the “Quiet in the Land,” emphasizing the virtues of simplicity, honesty, and adherence to the faith of the fathers, but without imagination or judgment as to opportunities or responsibilities of the higher faith in Christ. The 16th-century Anabaptists had been “in the world but not of the world”; the 18th-century Mennonite was neither “in the world” nor “of the world.” This explained the continuing lack of evangelistic zeal for a long period after persecution and discrimination had passed.4
Anabaptist social influence became mostly limited to prayer—with most of that, perhaps ironically, also silent:
Although Mennonites became known as the “quiet in the land” when they sought ways to avoid the sword of the state, their prayers continued to be an expression of their concern to remain faithful to God as they continued to be accountable to one another in covenant community. In their search for a faithful life-style, Mennonites rejected elaborate liturgy and dogmatic theology in favor of practices that were more simple and quiet. Initially Mennonites (Dutch) prayed silently during worship… In time they prayed silently twice during each service, a practice some maintained until the end of the 18th century. At home also their prayers were in silence before and after meals[ 5. Smucker, Marcus G. “Prayer.” Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1989. Web. 3 Jan 2016. http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Prayer&oldid=102612]
What should we do with this heritage of silence? This is a complex question, and we are not likely to all agree on the answers. For my part, I am not sure I am ready to fully imitate Menno Simons’ aggressive approach, although I have done a few things like signing some government petitions. Nor have I felt called to participate in all modern forms ofMennonite sociopolitical activism.
However, disagreements aside, I think we should be able to all affirm one form of active engagement—urging fellow Christians to follow more closely in Christ’s steps. We can’t expect unregenerate government officials to govern according to all the principles of Christ’s kingdom, but we can expect fellow believers to want to follow Christ more fully.
This is why I wanted to write that letter to Challies, and why I was glad when several of my friends joined me in the effort. Please join me now in praying (silently or otherwise!) that Challies and many of his readers will read the Preston Sprinkle book that Conrad and I recommended to him. If Challies is convinced by Sprinkle’s exposition of Scripture, the ripples could impact many.
Far too many of us, rather than speaking up effectively for the way of peace, are gradually drifting away from our own nonresistant heritage. One piece of evidence: I have been surprised and troubled to see how many Anabaptists (or ex-Anabaptists) post statements in support of the military come Veterans Day (or Memorial Day in Canada). In my mind, if I thank a soldier for fighting so I can enjoy a free country, then I have no business claiming conscientious objector status when the military comes looking for recruits.
Yes, I know:
No Bible verse explicitly says “Christians must not serve in the military” or “Christians must not use force to defend their families.”
Genuine Christians come to a range of conclusions on this subject.
And I have some questions I’m still wrestling with, such as this: If I believe it is wrong for me to use deadly force, is it ever right for me to call 911 when I or my loved ones are threatened, thus inviting another to do the deed that I cannot do for myself?
But, even while acknowledging some ambiguity regarding specific life situations or specific Bible texts, it is certainly possible to come to a coherent, convincing biblical understanding of Christian non-violence.
The days are past (if they were ever here) when we Anabaptists can take a casual approach to passing our nonresistant heritage on to our children. Many of our youth are now listening to a wide range of non-Anabaptist voices. Much good is coming from that; I would be very unhappy if we restricted our input to only Anabaptist sources. However, when rigorous non-Anabaptist teaching is paired with rather casual Anabaptist teaching in the home church, then doctrines such as nonresistance are likely to erode. This is especially true when so many of us are listening to the very same Reformed voices that Challies hears and promotes—the ones who have offered so little in support of Piper’s rebuttal to Falwell.
I believe most of us grow up assuming rather unquestioningly that nonresistance is right; I know I did. I also heard some good teaching to support it. However, some of our teaching is not as rigorous as I think it needs to be. One example: A while back (within the past 3-4 years, as I recall) the Christian Light Publications Sunday School curriculum included a series of lessons on nonresistance. This series helpfully covered a range of texts that support nonresistance, but no biblical texts used to challenge nonresistance were included in any lesson text. I wish the series had included one or two lessons wrestling directly with these “problem texts”—texts such as Romans 13:1-5, Acts 10 (Cornelius the centurion), or Luke 3:14 (John the Baptist failing to call soldiers to lay down their arms).
If this is our usual approach to teaching nonresistance, then we will lose it as soon as we hear more convincing teaching from other sources.
So where do we look for solid teaching on Christian non-violence? I will end this post by again affirming the work of a Reformed author who wrestles with this subject better than anyone else I have read in my admittedly limited reading.
The best thing about this book is its engagement with Scripture. But it is also helpful in at least two other ways: for its survey of what the early church believed about Christians and violence, and for its honest engagement with the most difficult practical scenarios you might face in real life.
This book would work well for small group discussion. Why not read it together with a Sunday School class, or with a mid-week Bible study group? If you want to build conviction for nonresistance in your church, I can’t think of a better resource.
If you want more book suggestions on this topic, let me know. I have more good ones in mind.
And if you want to begin with some free reading, see these two articles by Sprinkle:
What are your thoughts? How well are conservative Anabaptists doing at passing on our heritage of non-violence and suffering love to the next generation? How can we best share this heritage with Christians beyond our Anabaptist world? Share your insights in the comments below.
PS: In an ironic turn of events, my writing of this post was temporarily interrupted when I finally gave in to my daughter’s demands that I teach her how to play Risk. I don’t know if you approve of that or not, but I did somehow manage to retain my nonresistant convictions despite many hours playing Risk as a youth.
This morning when we read the Christmas story we began with the prophet Micah. In Micah’s account, Christ’s coming was promised to a people facing great distress:
4:9 Now why do you cry aloud? Is there no king in you? Has your counselor perished, that pain seized you like a woman in labor? 10 Writhe and groan, O daughter of Zion, like a woman in labor, for now you shall go out from the city and dwell in the open country; you shall go to Babylon. There you shall be rescued; there the Lord will redeem you from the hand of your enemies...
5:1 Now muster your troops, O daughter of troops; siege is laid against us; with a rod they strike the judge of Israel on the cheek. 2 But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days. 3 Therefore he shall give them up until the time when she who is in labor has given birth; then the rest of his brothers shall return to the people of Israel. 4 And he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth. 5 And he shall be their peace. (Micah 4:9-10; 5:1-5)
In the fullness of time, when the Christ finally came—in Bethlehem, just as Micah foretold—the people he came to were also in distress. Though back in the land of Israel, they still felt themselves to be in exile, withering under Rome’s heavy hand:
2 In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered.2 This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria.3 And all went to be registered, each to his own town.4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David,5 to be registered with Mary, his betrothed who was with child. (Luke 2:1-5)
And those in distress today still await Christ’s coming. We still await the full fulfillment of Micah’s words: “He shall be greatto the ends of the earth.And he shall be their peace.”
Long centuries passed before the Lord’s words to Micah first began to be fulfilled. Even more centuries have passed since Christ first came, while we await the fullness of Christ’s kingdom.
To all who, like me, live in an imperfect world, to all who battle fear and rest in faith, to all who live between Christ’s first and second comings, between his resurrection and his final appearing, I dedicate this little poem. Our King will come.
10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people…12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:10, 12)
11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb.12 And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet.13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” (John 20:11-13)
“Fear not,” to us the angel said,
“Fear not, for you will find.
“Fear not, this is the sign:
A baby in a manger laid.”
But now the child, our Lord, is dead.
But now we cannot find.
But now we see no sign
To show us where he has been laid.
Disease and death, the wars of words—
They’ve taken him away.
We cannot find the way;
Our world is ruled by other lords.
At such a time our Lord first came,
At such a time as this;
At such a time the mist
Of fear was rent by heaven’s flame.
Why are we weeping here today?
Why are we seeking blind?
Why have we fearful minds?
He’ll come, sure as he’s gone away.