Happy New Year. Be blessed and be a blessing!

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Symbols for the New Year

Symbols carry with them very powerful meanings and imageries. They represent a group of ideas linked together in one visual or verbal representation. In fact, the word symbol is derived from the Greek words syn- meaning ‘together’ and ballein meaning ‘to throw’. So taken literally, to create a symbol is to throw a couple of ideas together into one representation.

As we use symbols describe things, we are invoking the ideas that have been associated with the symbol and connecting those ideas with the particular subject. Since this year is the year of the ox, perhaps I shall use the ox to illustrate an example. For instance, say I described someone as an ‘ox’. The ox becomes a symbol that calls forth several different ideas and places that person in possession of those qualities signified by the symbol. In this case, the symbol of the ox could carry the significance of strength, vitality, loyalty, devotion, etc, so to describe someone as an ox could ultimately mean that the person is strong, youthful, loyal, etc. In other words, the qualities that have been ascribed to the ox have now been ascribed to that person.

As we enter a new year, I would like to present two powerful symbols that I believe challenge us to live a life that is worthy of our calling – peace and resurrection.

Nowadays, we often hear the word ‘peace’ in the news, public discussions or even casual talk. But what do people really mean when they talk about ‘peace’? Often times, we discover that ‘peace’ in contemporary terms has been diluted to mean merely the absence of conflict, i.e. we’re cool as long as we don’t step on each others’ toes.

However, the Bible presents a whole radical idea of peace. The Hebrews would call peace shalom, while the Greeks eirene (for those who are interested, the name Irene actually comes from this word). I would particularly like to focus on the symbol of shalom. Throughout the Old Testament, we observe that God’s commandment to the Israelites place much emphasis on community living. In fact, when we examine the Torah, God instructs the Israelites to care for those living amongst them, look after the welfare of their neighbours (including foreigners), greet each other in love – or to summarise it all, to seek the shalom of the community. Hence, the symbol of shalom (or peace) brings together the idea of not only the absence of conflict, but also the obligation towards the health and life of the community.

Even today, we are not exempt from these commandments that God gave to the Israelites. As we become part of a community of believers, the New Israel, God expects us to go beyond peaceful coexistence or personal isolation from the life of the community. Rather, He calls us to contribute and be part of the heartbeat of the whole body of Christ. We are called to care for one another in love, to seek each other’s welfare and to greet one another with joy. In other words, peace (shalom) calls us out of our self-centred survival status to life-giving love-filled latitude as we gather together as one body to seek the face of God.

The second symbol I would like to point our attention towards is the resurrection. First of all, I would like to address the idea that ‘resurrection’ is an event that will happen ‘someday, somewhere’. I believe that this is an incorrect perception of the resurrection. In fact, I would go further to suggest that we already have the power of resurrection within us. It is merely a matter of tapping into that power.

Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 5:17 that “those who are in Christ are a new creation”. In other words, those of us who believe in Christ and have received His Spirit are already a new creation. And as a new creation, we are now living in a whole different kind of power, i.e. the power of the resurrection. Paul tells us in Romans 8 that “if the spirit that raised Christ from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies”. The power of the resurrection is already accessible to us through the Spirit, right now, and not in another distant reality.

Then comes the question then, “But how does the power of the resurrection look like?” The same Greek word that is used for resurrection, egeiro, is also used in several ways in the New Testament. I would like to point out four of them, all found in the book of Matthew.
  1. To rise up and go – “Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead.” (Mat 2:20)
  2. To rise up and stand – But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” He said. “Don’t be afraid.” (Mat 17:7)
  3. To rise up against – Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. (Mat 24:7)
  4. To raise up people – I tell you out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. (Mat 3:9)
Therefore, the symbol of the resurrection draws together these ideas. In my opinion, to stand in the power of the resurrection means to get up and go in faith as the Spirit leads. It means that we were once afraid of taking brave steps to uncharted territories, but now we have the faith to make choices that no one else has ever dreamed of.

To stand in the power of the resurrection means to rise up and stand for our faith. It means that we were once insecure about our own identity, our purpose, our calling, or even our life, but now we hold onto a new hope and a covenantal promise in God that far exceeds any other promises of the world.

To stand in the power of the resurrection means to rise up against the ways of the nations, and the status quo. It means that we once tried to impersonate and mimic the ways of the empires around us, wallowing in our self-preservation and survival games. But now, we have caught a glimpse of a new way of living that is not based on following social norms or trying to meet the human expectations, but that which is based upon faith, hope and love. And because we have witnessed that kind of life, we rise up now to fight against the influences of the world that will try and pull us back to our ways of living.

Finally, to stand in the power of resurrection means to raise up a new generation of people who too can embody this hope in their lives. It means that since we have experienced this freedom and life in the Spirit, we now pass on this freedom to the next generation so that they do not have to start from scratch and go through all the painstaking process of discovery that we have been through, but so that they can build upon the foundations that we have laid, just as we build upon the foundations that Christ has laid.

Indeed, there is nothing foreign about resurrection. Dare I say, as we engage with every single day of our lives, we make choices each day whether to follow the leading of the Spirit and to tap into the power of resurrection that comes through the Spirit. We make choices each day whether to go to new frontiers, to stand firm in our faith, to fight against the ways of the world or to raise up a new generation of Christians. And as we step out in faith to take up these challenges, we are living in the power of the resurrection of Christ.

So, brother and sisters, I exhort you then, continue to live in the power of the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, making peace with all men. Have a blessed new year ahead! Shalom!

1 comment:

John said...

This hope for daily resurrection power rests, as Paul infers, on the reality of the resurrection of Christ. For any who are interested in the historical support for Christ's resurrection, visit: