This year the heaven’s themselves seem to have been declaring that something significant is occurring on earth. In September there was a “Blood Moon”. In October we saw Mars, Jupiter, and Venus come together in a rare conjunction. The Internet was awash with prophesies and predictions beforehand and ridicule and refutations afterwards when it seemed like “nothing happened”. However, as this year comes to a close I can’t help but feel that as we look back it will indeed turn out to have been a momentous year in personal and national stories. This year I have heard many stories of transition and change as lives are being repositioned. Globally there have been a number of significant changes. Things which previous generations took for granted have shifted.
National identities are in motion.
The biggest movement of refugees since World War Two has moved millions of people from the Middle East and North Africa into Europe. There was a time when the European identity was culturally “Christian” but since the end of the 1950’s Europe has become far more multicultural. There are some who feel that the time is soon coming with current immigration and birth rates that an Islamic majority in Europe is more than probable.
Family identities are changing.
What a family looks like was more or less standard for much of human history but this year family and marriage has been globally redefined to encompass many different types of families. The definition of marriage is now open to personal interpretation. Having broadened the definition of marriage to include same sex marriage there is no rational reason to stop there and in the not too distant future the voices for polygamy, polyandry, collective marriage and every other living arrangement will begin to grow louder and louder and essentially, marriage in meaning everything, will end up meaning nothing.
Personal Identity is no longer fixed.
Even our most basic identity, our gender, is now up for debate. In the past it was not considered difficult to determine the gender of an individual because the determination was rooted in objective realities and facts. Today gender is as subjective as one’s feelings.This year for the first time probably in history an individual who was born male received an award as “Woman of the Year”. It was a milestone year.
There are many who look at these events and correctly say that each of these shifts are not a destination in and of themselves but are really just the beginning of a journey, they are seeds of the future. We will probably only see the full impact of these shifts in a generation as the world transforms to accommodate these profound changes. Nations will change, families will look different, and each of us whether we embrace these changes or rue them will change in order to deal with the reality of this watershed moment in history.
There are some who will yield to fear or hopelessness. Some parts of the church see a “culture war” imminent and feel that the best response to the challenges facing us is to separate ourselves from the culture, stand back and attack and ultimately overcome by the power of God. Sadly, if the church does engage in a “Culture war” we will lose, because even if we attack in God’s name we will not carry God’s nature nor his blessing.
Christmas is a time where we remember how God has engaged our world. Two thousand years ago, give or take, the people of God were crushed under the heel of an occupying power, their national identity was slowly being crushed so they cried out to God for deliverance. God answered, but his answer was not what most expected. His answer wasn’t the fall of a Kingdom, the raising of an army, the change of a government nor the writing of a law. No his answer came in the form of a small family at the edges of the world looking for a place to stay the night and give birth to a baby. There was an unusual conjunction of the planets at that time also and astrologers from a far away land came looking for God’s promised deliverer. At first they sought him in the palace of a King but ultimately in a humble stable in Bethlehem in Judea, they looked into the face of God’s answer to the heart cry of man. There were many people who raised bands of followers and attempted to use power to change the world to no avail.
God’s answer was Jesus, a baby given to the world, a life by which we may find our way in the darkness much as the wise men found their way to Bethlehem by following the Star which they saw in the east. God’s answer at first glance did not seem to be spectacular; a baby born in a stable, to an average family, in a small city on the edges of the empire. However even as a forest may be hidden in a single acorn so this baby changed everything for mankind, for his life represented God with us. The presence of God with man in all his challenges changes hopelessness to a glorious hope.
As I travelled around the world this year I continually heard powerful stories of the presence of God breaking in to lives, families and nations. I have witnessed people transformed by an encounter with God. I have witnessed people converted, healed, delivered, overcome with joy, love or peace etc. I even had the privilege of spending time with a brother who saw two people raised from the dead this year. In November I sat in a group of people and heard testimonies of hundreds of thousands of people who have become Jesus followers in one of the biggest Muslim nations in the world. A global shift is happening, God has not lost control of the agenda but like the generation that looked for God to answer in Jerusalem or Rome we could be missing what is happening because we are looking in the wrong places.
I believe that we are about to see God’s Spirit flood the nations of the world. Europe will experience a revival such as hasn’t happened in generations, and consequently God has moved millions of families from other parts of the world so they too can freely hear the gospel. When we come to recognise and understand the significance of Jesus, the presence of God with man, we will find our truest identity, an identity higher than individual, family or national affiliations. We will find that we are called to be children of God.
Our prayer for each of you is that this Christmas you will find room for the presence of Jesus in your life. If you are facing challenges or if you are abundantly blessed, that you would humbly welcome Jesus into your heart and life and allow him to guide you into your fullest and truest identity. It may seem like the smallest thing, it requires just a short, heart-felt prayer but receiving the gift of God’s son sows the seeds of the great Joy for all people, Peace to men and God’s amazing grace that Angels once announced to shepherds on a hillside in Galilee.