• Our hope-filled future is bound up in sharing the story of Jesus, in discipling others, in bringing those disciples together into communities of believers, and in developing and releasing those believers to create other communities... till Jesus the King comes again!

Curing Cynicism

Thanks to Noah for this week’s post on A Praying Life:

During this holiday season, Miller’s chapters on cynicism (9 and 10) are particularly apropos.  Charlie Brown’s Christmas seems like naïve optimism, hopelessly out of touch amidst the hustle and bustle of earthier holiday specials that feature broken families, sparkling with conflict and laden with crass humor.  It is particularly obvious during the Christmas season that, as Miller says, “Cynicism is, increasingly, the dominant spirit of our age.”  Exhibitions of Dickensian families modeling the perfect relationships are no longer appealing to our culture of rubbernecking window-shoppers.  That stuff is “just not realistic.”  We know better.  It’s not such A Wonderful Life, after all, and if you get your hopes up…

Among the materialistic cynicism, the birth of the Messiah gets too tightly swaddled the ethereal tones of Silent Night to shed light on our cynical age for what it is:  the answer to Israel’s prayer for the nations.  Israel was commissioned to be God’s instrument of deliverance in the world (Gen. 12:1-2; Ex. 19:5-6).  They had failed repeatedly in their mission, and the world remained as hopeless.  It was becoming very obvious that they were not the answer.  Now, all they could do was pray.  The birth of Jesus marks the dramatic reversal that answered the groaning plea of the failed people in Isaiah 26:16-9: 

“As a pregnant woman about to give birth writhes and cries out in her pain, so were we in your presence, LORD. We were with child, we writhed in labor, but we gave birth to wind. We have not brought salvation to the earth, and the people of the world have not come to life. But your dead will live, LORD; their bodies will rise— let those who dwell in the dust wake up and shout for joy— your dew is like the dew of the morning; the earth will give birth to her dead.”

To many, Christian hope sounds like gooey gumdrops and candy cane dreams – the stuff of holiday cheer.  But the signals of transcendence – the clues and signs of “something more”, a Providential plan and the possibilities of hope – that culture attempts to articulate during the holiday season should only serve to augment the contrast between our hopeful prayers and the world’s cynical expressions.  Truly, as Miller says, “To be cynical is to be distant.”  Prayer draws us near.  It “engages evil” and hopes in God.  It is the most realistic thing we can do.

Boy, am I a product of this generation!  Miller’s “cure for cynicism” that encouraged us to “learn to hope again” was particularly poignant.  I love to dream.  But it feels “like so much foolishness” when tempered by the extremities of the world’s dilemma.  And it doesn’t feel like it’s doing much, sometimes.  I pray the news, but it happens anyway.  As he says, “Prayer feels pointless, as if we are talking to the wind” with that attitude.  “But Jesus is all about hope.”  Could it be that “Disney is right,” as Miller claims?  Yes, for the Promise Fulfilled in the Birth of Christ is the substance of my faith.  It happened.  The Promise was fulfilled.  Prayer was answered; prayer will be answered. 

This season provides us the perfect opportunity to draw near to God in prayer, confident that the birth of His Son was only the beginning of fulfillment.  There is a happy ending to this cynical age:  “Behold, I make all things new” (Rev. 21:5).  Returning to this reality – the essential promise of Christmas – should be a daily discipline, so that we may remain unspotted by the world’s detached cynicism.  May this be our Christmas anthem: “In keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells. So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him. Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation…” (2 Peter 3:13-14).  And when I can’t say this with a straight face to my brothers and sisters for fear of sounding too hopeful, too sublime – I will remember how far I have fallen from the Truth of Christ’s birth – and return in practical, realistic, everyday prayer.

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