Thursday, December 06, 2007

I Have Just One Thing to Say

In the 1920’s, on the heels of the Bolshevik Revolution when Joseph Stalin was extending his chokehold over all of what became the Soviet Union, he sent political speakers out to Russian towns and villages to brainwash the people about Marxism and the Russian form of Communism. Peasants were forced to hear the harangues telling them what they must believe. It was made clear that the teaching of Christian faith was to come to an immediate end. The church was no longer to be active. What none of them realized was that hundreds of years of Russian Orthodox teaching about the resurrection couldn’t be rubbed out of people’s souls just like that.

One large crowd of people sitting in a public auditorium listened for three hours to the speech of a Russian commissar as he tried to convert them to Marxism and the glories of the Communist party. When he finished, he was exhausted, but he had taken his best shot. He was sure he had won over the crowd, so he invited questions. Here and there people rose to ask questions, but the questions were not probing or critical. He felt they had received his message favorably.

Just as things were about to end, and he was preparing to sign his success seal over what he had done, a Russian Orthodox priest stood up at the back of the hall: “I have just one thing to say to you. Christ is risen!” Instantly the entire crowd responded, “Christ is risen, indeed!”

-- Gordon MacDonald, “Take Your Best Shot”

In the Wednesday night class I am teaching on the Ten Commandments, one of our conversation partners is a book by David Klinghoffer, an orthodox Jew, called “Shattered Tablets: Why We Ignore the Ten Commandments at our Peril.” Klinghoffer is a keen social observer, and from his hometown of Seattle he notes the ways in which America’s increasingly secularized culture and worldview is affecting our society’s moral fabric. He notes, for instance, that the first commandment’s exhortation to “have no other gods before Me” is also, and even primarily, a warning against having other “sources of moral authority” than God.

For the Russian orthodox priest, this one declaration, “Christ is risen,” embodied the post-resurrection equivalent of the first commandment. Communist ideology sought to put the state in place of God. To declare that “Christ is risen” was to say, in effect, “I am choosing to put my ultimate trust and allegiance in the moral authority of Christ the Lord, not this political ideology.”

It is a good reminder for Christians, especially this time of year. Undergirding our gift-giving and celebration of family and friendships is our declaration, “Immanuel, God with us.” This embodies the post-incarnational equivalent of the second commandment not to make idols for ourselves. Because God is with us in Jesus, we can see the false gods for what they are, and declare “Immanuel, God with us indeed!”

Every December we hear the familiar murmurings about maintaining “the reason for the season” and we are admonished to “keep Christ in Christmas.” All well and good, but ultimately a bit superficial. How much better to “keep Christmas in Christ.” The One to whom we belong, and whom we follow.


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