Christmas for the Ages

A World Without Prayer

By Jay Haug
Special to Virtueonline
www.virtueonline.org

“At that time, men began to call on the name of the Lord.” Gen. 4:26b

These words fairly leapt out at me from the page as I read them recently. I had not registered their presence in the Bible before. They describe a time in the early days of man’s creation when a great cataclysm had broken upon the world. Before the fall, man had dwelt securely with God in the garden provided for him.

Man’s relationship with God was one of implicit intimacy, where God “walked in the garden in the cool of the day” (Gen. 3:8) and where God spoke directly to Adam and Eve. (Gen 3:9-13).

But after the fall, man’s life became deeply troubled. Strife, murder, back-breaking work and troubles in child-birth and child-rearing became the norm, not the exception. Literature en mass from Milton’s Paradise Lost to the present have described man’s experience “after the fall.”

This is the world in which we now live. However, it is not the world to which we are headed. Even now the world “groans” (Romans 8:22-23) because we can see the new world that is coming, though we do not yet possess it. The gap between promise and possession is real.

The greatest and most enduring reality after the fall was Adam and Eve’s loss of intimacy with God. The garden was the place they had lived with God. Now a “flaming sword” (Gen. 3:24) barred their return to that place of divine-human contact. They had to learn to cope in their new world outside the garden. Now you would think that prayer would have been their instinctive response to their plight. But no. We read that no one prayed. No one.

Whether it was just too hard to pray, whether they were overwhelmed by unworthiness or prayer had not even occurred to them, we do not know. What we do know is that years went by. In fact, decades went by before anyone prayed. Genesis tells us that it was not until Adam and Eve’s grandson Enosh was born that “men began to call on the name of the Lord.” (4:26) Perhaps the new hope delivered with the birth of a grandchild was the catalyst to bring the first family back into relationship with God. The Scripture hints but does not tell us plainly.

There have been times of prayerlessness that have swept the west throughout history. We can think of Anglican rationalism settling over the dusty churches of England after the Enlightenment, or the rampant alcoholism of pre-Great Awakening America that gripped the country in the wake of Puritan decline, where it was said that half of America’s 12 year old boys were alcoholics. The half-century assault on prayer in public schools certainly does not help our children to become people of prayer. The list goes on. People experience prayerless seasons for countless reasons.

What then drives a family, people, a country and a culture back to prayer? Trouble certainly does and our country is as troubled now as it has been during my adult life-time. But trouble can pass and with it the needs that drove us to prayer. No, there is a greater motivator for prayer than even trouble. It is hope. Perhaps Adam and Eve felt renewed hope that their grandchild Enosh might live in a better world and this hope drove them to prayer. But even this kind of hope based in family legacy is not enough. The world our descendents occupy may not be better and may be worse. History oscillates and there are no guarantees.

No, what drives us to prayer is the belief that our relationship with God makes all the difference, both in this world and the next. When those first humans began to pray they did so with the belief that “all was not lost.” They had to deal with the world as it is, while at the same time believing that God had not abandoned them. But the “eternal hope” had not yet been purchased for the ancients.

We have far greater reason to pray. Our legacy and treasure is surpassingly great, a promise unimaginable to Adam and Eve. It is nothing less than the truth that through the cross and resurrection we are a people of destiny, participants in the building of a “new heaven and a new earth.” (Rev. 21:1) This is the “eternal hope” expressed so well in Romans 5:1-5 and Romans 8:22-25. Prayer is redemption believed and applied, expressed in hope. It is the one thing a prayerless world needs most. Our message is simple. There may be no way back to the garden but there is a much better way forward to a promised, permanent yet unimaginable destiny. As Bishop Martyn Minns put it. “We are all lost. We are all loved. We will all be transformed.” Now that is something to pray about.

*****

Christmas for the Ages

By Jay Haug
Special to Virtueonline
www.virtueonline.org
December 8, 2010

Darkness seeps into our bones
Deep in winter.
In the midst of cold
We await the warmth of God’s tiny light
Struggling to be born

A new beginning for the ages
A baby, no, a man for all time
Against all odds
Against the decline of human history
Against the darkness seeking his demise.

Then suddenly, He is born. Christ is born today
Collapsing every Christmas in human history
In our lives and memory
Into this Christmas, this eternal now
Asking entrance once again.

Today he comes in stillness and night
Bearing unseen gifts of grace and truth, what we need, but dare not ask.
Many will never unwrap them nor have eyes to behold.
But some unexpectedly, suddenly, like the shepherds of old
Will see the glory all around and worship at his feet.

He asks: Give me your gift, your darkness, your unreachable place of pain.
Conflicted memories of Christmases past?
Rejection, isolation, broken dreams, vain wishes?
Never mind. He comes to take these and more, to redeem it all, And will.

The human soul cries out: Can he do it for me?
He did. He has. He will… and he gives new life, the greatest gift of all.
But be still. Be quiet. He comes again in the vacant spaces of our souls
Seeking Bethlehem’s birth in us
Again.

—Jay Haug is a member of Redeemer Anglican Church in Jacksonville, Florida. He is a former Episcopal priest, radio talk show host and current financial advisor. He and his wife of 31 years, Claudia, live in Ponte Vedra Beach and are parents to three grown children.

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