Today I happened to be reading a local newspaper, and I came across an article about seasonal displays at the capitol building in Olympia, Washington.
Apparently in 2006 a Jewish group put up a menorah display, and a Christian realtor responded by asking permission to put up a Nativity scene. When refused, he sued, and won; the Nativity scene is placed this year in the capitol building.
Not to be out-done, the local chapter of the “Freedom from Religion Foundation” put up their own placard, claiming they wanted ‘to have a place at the table’ in presenting their viewpoint.
Odd that they would pick Christmas time to make their statement — I didn’t know that this time of the year had any significance to atheists. What do they do, have an annual manger-burning ceremony, or perhaps exchange bags of garbage with their closest friends? Surely there is some famous atheist with a birthday that they could celebrate, that wouldn’t happen to be on or around the 25th of December?
Apparently the Nativity scene and atheist placard are side by side in the capitol building, with only a bust of our nation’s first president separating them. Sadly, the metal plaque they ordered had some sort of ‘shipping problem’, and they had to make do with a posterboard copy. Maybe they had a misspelling or something. As the scripture says in Psalm 14:1:
The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God.”
Or again in Romans 1:
For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.
Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creatorâ€”who is forever praised. Amen.
Don’t get me wrong: I recognize that the relative freedom of speech that I enjoy depends on others being allowed to express their opinion. It makes me sad, though, and serves as a symbol in my mind of how far we’ve moved, as a nation, from being “One Nation, Under God”. I find it hard to believe that a 1950′s version of the Freedom from Religion Foundation would have acted so boldly in the face of public reverence for God — but the world has turned.
Not unusually, today’s Bible reading spoke to this, in the words of the prophet Daniel, as he contemplated his own nation’s fall from grace:
I prayed to the Lord my God and confessed:
â€œO Lord, you are a great and awesome God! You always fulfill your covenant and keep your promises of unfailing love to those who love you and obey your commands. But we have sinned and done wrong. We have rebelled against you and scorned your commands and regulations. We have refused to listen to your servants the prophets, who spoke on your authority to our kings and princes and ancestors and to all the people of the land.
â€œLord, you are in the right; but as you see, our faces are covered with shame. This is true of all of us, including the people of Judah and Jerusalem and all Israel, scattered near and far, wherever you have driven us because of our disloyalty to you. O Lord, we and our kings, princes, and ancestors are covered with shame because we have sinned against you. But the Lord our God is merciful and forgiving, even though we have rebelled against him. We have not obeyed the Lord our God, for we have not followed the instructions he gave us through his servants the prophets. All Israel has disobeyed your instruction and turned away, refusing to listen to your voice.
I think we are in the place we are today, because those who should have been “salt and light” in their communities, have failed to keep themselves pure, and full of savor. They haven’t passed the word of God on to their children or to their neighbors. Instead, as it says in Proverbs 28:28 (also in today’s reading): “When the wicked take charge, people go into hiding.”
I don’t think Christians can afford to go into hiding anymore. It is time we speak out, like Stephen in Acts 7, and, if necessary, accept the consequences, seeking not our own comfort or safety, but rather desiring the glory of our Lord to be revealed to a dying world!
I’ll be cowering in my house, if you need me.