When I was a kid, had anyone placed an idol in their living room or spent hours meditating on "nothingness" for peace of mind, we would have called them crazy. Seems everywhere I look, there's a buddha sitting on a tabletop. Decorators like to express a feeling of tranquility in a LR or bedroom by adding foreign gods as symbols. You can find out how to build a shrine or "meditation room" in the DIY section of the library. Any neighbor on my childhood street who would have checked out such a book would have been marked as an insane person.
Reading history, it's easy to see how the West abandoned their love of God, in whom souls find rest, for the frantic pace of capitalism and consumerism. We fell in love with stuff, and then found our souls empty.
"Want to be really empty?" asked priests of world religions. "We can show you how." In came the gods made by hands, subtly in music (via John Lennon and Yoko Ono, yeah we thought they were nuts when they first broadcast Eastern rites). Foreign gods came creeping in with decor (oh, it's just a pretty statue. doesn't mean anything to me.) They disguised their houses of worship as holistic wellness centers (check out the "meditation rooms" that used to be chapels in hospitals, catholic retreat centers, and airports). And slowly but surely idolatry pervaded our homes and thinking ("You know, I think this guardian angel on my keychain really makes a difference, don'tcha, Saint so-and-so?")
It's not like we were ever all Christians. But the church used to be a place of refuge, where you knew someone would listen, pray to God with you, and offer help in times of trouble. I doubt if most of my fellow Seattle-ites would turn to the church rather than a bar or social services. Few people notice church buildings: it's like we have blinders on when we drive by.
I was creeped out by this photo on the BBC news this morning. Clinton is in Myanmar (formerly Burma). When would the heads of state take Communion in a Christian church... or even attend worship services with our government leaders? Yet with a smile on her face, Mrs. C. pours a symbolic water sacrifice on the altar of a god who is no god, a representation of demonic forces and evil. Is no one thinking about the message such a ritual binds us to as a nation?
We have bowed our hearts in the high places. Israel was severely punished for such abandonment of God. Rich and poor, influencers and peasants... all were swept away by economic downturns and wars and natural disasters. What makes us better than they? (Or has God become blinder to the sins of our leaders?) We will suffer God's justice because he notices those whose hearts incline toward him and those who worship things made with hands.
Christ sacrificed himself, One for all, so that we might have access to God. "Oh, Lord, let us not turn away from the abundance, peace, and joy you promise." We no longer have to sacrifice as the Israelites did, but we must turn day by day with hearts wide open to the God who has saved us and loved us enough to die on our behalf.
What abundant life we celebrate in this Christmas season! Don't let it be lost among those you love. In this season, decorations and business, presents and feasting can consume our time for worship and meditation on the One True God, who made us and wants to call us his own.
Lord have mercy! Christ have mercy! Lord have mercy... on us all! Let's pray together today... for our governments, neighbors, and others who do not yet worship the Creator.
*Command the people of Israel to bring you pure oil of pressed olives for the light, to keep the lamps burning continually. The lampstand will stand in the Tabernacle, in front of the inner curtain that shields the Ark of the Covenant. Aaron and his sons must keep the lamps burning in the LORD's presence all night. This is a permanent law for the people of Israel, and it must be observed from generation to generation. Exodus 27:20–21 NLT
*Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth. Worship the LORD with gladness; come before him with joyful songs. Know that the LORD is God. It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. For the LORD is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations. Psalm 100 NIV
*While Paul was waiting in Athens, he was upset to see all the idols in the city. He went to the Jewish meeting place to speak to the Jews and to anyone who worshiped with them. Day after day he also spoke to everyone he met in the market. Some of them were Epicureans and some were Stoics, and they started arguing with him. People were asking, "What is this know-it-all trying to say?" Some even said, "Paul must be preaching about foreign gods! That's what he means when he talks about Jesus and about people rising from death."
They brought Paul before a council called the Areopagus, and said, "Tell us what your new teaching is all about. We have heard you say some strange things, and we want to know what you mean." More than anything else the people of Athens and the foreigners living there loved to hear and to talk about anything new.
So Paul stood up in front of the council and said: "People of Athens, I see that you are very religious. As I was going through your city and looking at the things you worship, I found an altar with the words, 'To an Unknown God.' You worship this God, but you don't really know him. So I want to tell you about him. This God made the world and everything in it. He is Lord of heaven and earth, and he doesn't live in temples built by human hands. He doesn't need help from anyone. He gives life, breath, and everything else to all people. From one person God made all nations who live on earth, and he decided when and where every nation would be.
"God has done all this, so that we will look for him and reach out and find him. He isn't far from any of us, and he gives us the power to live, to move, and to be who we are. 'We are his children,' just as some of your poets have said.
"Since we are God's children, we must not think that he is like an idol made out of gold or silver or stone. He isn't like anything that humans have thought up and made. In the past, God forgave all this because people did not know what they were doing. But now he says that everyone everywhere must turn to him. He has set a day when he will judge the world's people with fairness. And he has chosen the man Jesus to do the judging for him. God has given proof of this to all of us by raising Jesus from death."
As soon as the people heard Paul say that a man had been raised from death, some of them started laughing. Others said, "We will hear you talk about this some other time." When Paul left the council meeting, some of the men put their faith in the Lord and went with Paul. Acts 17:16-34 CEV