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Christian Living

Spiritual Life

The Hope of the Olympics

This weekend, millions of people around the world will gather with their families and friends, united by their enthusiasm, to watch athletes compete on the world’s biggest stage. Viewers in suburban neighborhoods across America will watch footage from the same stadium as people in cities across Europe, cafes in Russia, villages in China and communities around the globe. And, though the race for medals may get heated at times, at the end of each competition, we all watch as athletes representing all of our diverse nations shake hands and walk off the ice and snow together.

Despite all of our differences, for a few days every four years, we manage to almost forget about them and cheer each other on.

But, in two weeks, the Closing Ceremonies will happen and the stories that—for many people—have only been background notes on features about Lindsey Vonn, the Opening Ceremonies and medal hopefuls, will be thrust back into the spotlight. The conflicts in the Middle East, the healthcare reform debate, and arguments about the global financial crisis will be propelled back into the “Tonight’s Top Story” place.

Instead of features that remind us of how we’re all the same (meeting together for athletic events and good-natured competition), we’ll quickly remember all of our differences.

The book of Ecclesiastes says a lot about the transitions in life and how the human condition dictates seasons of change. The third chapter opens with a poetic passage about focusing on the good and also remembering the not-so-good. The chapter tells us that “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven,” (3:1, NIV) from life’s most basic precepts: “A time to be born and a time to die” (3:2), to hard to swallow realities of a fallen world, “a time for war and a time for peace” (3:8).

But perhaps the most fitting extol in the passage—especially when talking about the highs of the Olympic games juxtaposed against the tragedy of human conflicts—is verse 4: “A time to weep and a time to laugh. A time to mourn and a time to dance.”

Around the world, we see nations in turmoil. Wars in the Middle East, terrorist attacks in Afghanistan, a violent dispute in Iran and even vitriolic political rhetoric that divides people who live in places of peace.

But like the author of Ecclesiastes wrote, these types of things are nothing new.

In the New Testament, we see Jesus being born into a broken and violent world. At the time He was born, political paranoia was so intense that the ruling power of the day ordered the mass slaughter of baby boys because King Herod worried about the prophesy of a coming King. But despite the civil unrest, Jesus chose an interesting moment to open His ministry—a ministry that would go on to change the world.

At 30 years old, Jesus had been waiting patiently to perform His first miracle and officially begin His three years of ministry leading up to the cross. In a culture at odds with the ruling government, facing mass persecution, where did He choose to kick off His world-changing ministry? At a courthouse? On the battlefield? In the city square for all to see?

No. He chose a party. A place where people were coming together, not a place where they were being torn apart.

We see in John 2 that on the third day of a wedding reception, all the wine had run out. Instead of letting the wedding party end, Jesus transformed water into wine so everyone could have more. Of course, there is subtext and symbolism in this story—wine became a sign of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross; there’s the symbolic significance of the wedding (and the Church becoming the bride of Christ) and the theme of living water we see later Jesus when described salvation.

But on the surface, we see another theme—Jesus loved weddings. He loved it when people came together to celebrate. He constantly referred to great feasts, attended festivals and other celebrations. Christ could have chosen anywhere to unveil His first miracle, and He chose a wedding party—a place where people forgot about all their differences and conflicts, and came together to celebrate.

So even though the Olympics will soon be over in just two weeks and our collective awareness of current events will most likely be diverted back to hard news stories of international conflicts, graphic war-zone images and biting rhetoric—to things that highlight our differences in the worst, yet also inevitable, ways—let’s also try to remember what those 12 days in every few years really mean. They’re not just for sports and races for awards, but for a celebration, and for remembering the ways that we’re all really the same.

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