The Associated Press has released its list of the top ten stories for 2015. Here they are, in order:
1. The Islamic State
2. Gay marriage
3. The Paris attacks
4. Mass shootings
5. Black deaths in police encounters
6. Terrorism fears
7. The U.S. election
8. Climate change
9. The Charleston shooting
10. Europe’s migrant crisis.
Apart from the election and its uncertain outcome, each of the stories is discouraging for evangelical Christians.
Here’s some good news: Queen Elizabeth II will reportedly deliver her “most Christian message yet” during her annual Christmas address to the Commonwealth of Nations. According to a source, the queen is “driven” by her faith and hopes to project a “fundamental optimism” in contrast to “the overall gloom” of these days.
Why should we feel optimistic today?
Isaiah 8 finds Israel in gloom and distress: “They will pass through the land, greatly distressed and hungry. And when they are hungry, they will be enraged and will speak contemptuously against their king and their God, and turn their faces upward. And they will look to the earth, but behold, distress and darkness, the gloom of anguish. And they will be thrust into thick darkness” (vs. 21-22).
The prophet could be describing our challenging times. However, dawn follows the dark: “But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish” (Isaiah 9:1). Instead, “You have multiplied the nation; you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as they are glad when they divide the spoil” (v. 3). Why? Because “to us a child is born, to us a son is given” (v. 6a).
Now Isaiah describes the Christ of Christmas seven centuries before his birth: “His name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (v. 6b). What do these titles mean to you? Let’s translate them literally from the Hebrew and apply them to our culture.
One: We can trust his purpose, for Jesus is “a counselor so full of wonder as to be miraculous.” Two: We should seek his power, for Jesus is “the God who possesses might.” Three: We are welcome in his presence, for Jesus is “a Father forever.” Four: We can claim his peace, for Jesus is “the Prince who gives peace.” All of this is true of our Lord, no matter what our post-Christian culture says about him.
As Christmas illustrates, circumstances cannot give us meaning or take it from us. Jesus was as much the Son of God in a Bethlehem stable as on the Mount of Transfiguration. He was as much Lord when he was worshiped by field hands as when he was glorified by angels. Paul was as much an apostle to the Gentiles when he wrote letters from a Roman prison as when he was preaching in a Roman marketplace. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was as great a theologian in a Nazi prison as in a seminary classroom.
St. Augustine was right: “Faith is to believe what we do not see, and the reward of this faith is to see what we believe.” No matter your circumstances, you can ask for and receive the Christmas gifts Jesus came to give—his wisdom, power, presence, and peace.
Which do you need most today?