Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Aliens

Early followers of Jesus worship in caves beneath Rome.
The new civilization worshiping in the
Catacombs
Over the years I've gotten a few questions and comments something like this: "You say you're here to teach basic Christianity. Why don't you stick to that? Why do you keep posting about all these holidays? What do they have to do with the doctrines Christianity teaches?"

The answer is they have everything to do with it. Here is an important point: Christianity is not just a list of teachings by that nice Mr. Jesus. It is an entirely new civilization, commonly known as the Kingdom of God.

Of course there is no question that we should pay our taxes, participate in government, and support the PTA. And certainly we shouldn't be stern-faced sticks-in-the-mud who refuse to chat with the neighbors or go to the movies. Quite the opposite in fact. As St. Paul reminded his friends in Rome, "When God reigns, the order of the day is redeeming justice, true peace, and joy made possible by the Holy Spirit", (Letter to the Romans chapter 14 verse 17, The Voice Bible).

But did you catch it a couple of Sundays ago (if your church does Advent, that is)? The start of Advent is New Years Day for us. In fact Christians have an entire calendar of our own that doesn't begin in January or the Spring. It's designed to constantly remind us of the epicenter of our lives: The life, death, resurrection, and royal authority of the Messiah. That marks us out as different.

The idea isn't original. Ancient Israel was given a cycle of holidays to remind them of their own mighty "redemption" by God from Egypt and the blessings of their inheritance in the promised land. Jesus of Nazareth, being God and all, is superior to Moses, great though he was, and the spiritual agreement Jesus instituted supercedes the old, physical one. And we still have a year-round cycle of holidays helping us remember our own redemption by Jesus from something much more evil than the Egyptian Pharaoh and point us to a much greater "land" promised by Jesus.


Exiles

But that's just emblematic of a larger truth: That people who truly follow Jesus of Nazareth have not just a different calendar, but a different ruler and are citizens of another country. We live in our nations here on the Earth in much the same way ambassadors dwell in foreign lands. Or perhaps as underground resistance movements do, since we are busy building the Kingdom of God right under our neighbor's noses -- and inviting them in.


A leader in the early Christian Movement is arrested by Roman authorities.
We are foreigners in this world and, like many
foreigners, not always welcome.
St. Peter was clear on this: "Dear friends, I urge you as foreigners and exiles to keep away from fleshly desires that do battle against the soul," (First Letter of Peter chapter 2, verse 11).

Why? Because, "our citizenship is in heaven," said the Apostle Paul. "We look forward to a savior that comes from there—the Lord Jesus Christ," (Letter to the Philippians chapter 3, verse 20, CEB)

The earliest members of the Christian movement insisted that, because of the Holy Spirit's action within them, they were a "new race", a new kind of human being. One ancient author, writing probably a mere 30 years after the Apostle John died, described us this way:


"They live in their own countries, but only as aliens. They have a share in everything as citizens, and endure everything as foreigners. Every foreign land is their fatherland, and yet for them every fatherland is a foreign land... They busy themselves on earth, but their citizenship is in heaven. They obey the established laws, but in their own lives they go far beyond what the laws require..."
Letter to Diognetus chapter 5, verses 5 - 13)

A chapter title in C S Lewis' famous book Mere Christianity sums it up well: "Nice People or Changed Men?" As members of the Christian Movement we are not intended to change as little as possible so we can fit in here in this world. That "change" Lewis talks about transfers us "from the power of darkness... to the kingdom of the Son he loves" (Letter to the Colossians chapter 1, verse 13).

Once that supernatural change gets hold of us, it is only in that Kingdom that we can truly settle and finally belong.

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