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God of our weary years,
God of our silent tears,
Thou who has brought us thus far on the way;
Thou who has by Thy might
Led us into the light,
Keep us forever in the path, we pray.
Lest our feet stray from the places, Our God, where we met Thee;
Lest, our hearts drunk with the wine of the world, we forget Thee.

These words, written by James Weldon Johnson in 1899, in celebration of the birthday of Abraham Lincoln, served to open the benediction by Reverend Joseph Lowery at the Inauguration of President Barack Obama on January 20, 2009. A few moments later, he added this petition:

“With your hands of power and your heart of love, help us then, now, Lord, to work for that day when nation shall not lift up sword against nation, when tanks will be beaten into tractors, when every man and every woman shall sit under his or her own vine and fig tree and none shall be afraid, when justice will roll down like waters and righteousness as a mighty stream.”

For this Welsh-born, long-time resident of Canada, it has been impossible to avoid being touched by the emotion associated with the election and inauguration of the 44th President of the United States. Especially in light of the “weary years and silent tears” of generations of African-Americans, this historic development has enormous significance. The jubilant, hopeful, enthusiastic response of millions of Americans has evoked a generous and optimistic reaction from millions more in other lands.

Yet we remain conscious of the immensity of the multi-faceted tasks facing the new President, his fellow Americans, and indeed the peoples of all lands. One measure of this challenge was apparent in the unprecedented level of security precautions in effect on this occasion. The threat to the safety of America’s new leader reflects the dangers facing global society in general. In his Inaugural Address, President Obama described the situation: “Our nation is at war, against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred.

There was a time when victory in war was clear-cut and readily recognizable. But warfare has changed. In Iraq and Afghanistan, for instance, military success is now less well defined and far more elusive. In the “War on Terror,” there is neither clear definition nor imminent prospect of victory.

The President offers stirring rhetoric, to be followed doubtless by specific actions. But ultimately the challenge is insurmountable. For mere mortals, it is futile, in the words of the benediction, “to work for that day when nation shall not lift up sword against nation.”

Niall Ferguson, author of The Ascent of Money, was interviewed for a November newspaper article. The topic was the global financial crisis. But Professor Ferguson framed this problem in a larger context:

“People seem to have forgotten that there is an Iranian government committed to a nuclear arms program that poses an existential threat to Israel. The nightmare scenario is conflict in the Middle East. Will Israel act unilaterally, and what will be the reaction to that? In ‘The War of the World,’ I said that there are three things that make conflict very likely: economic volatility, ethnic disintegration, and an empire in decline. You have all three in Iraq. When I first published the book, I went around saying, ‘Of course we don’t have the kind of economic volatility that they had in the 1930s. But it could come back. The other two ingredients are already there.’ ” The reporter concludes: “It’s not difficult to understand why Niall Ferguson’s study of history is making him lose sleep.”

January’s conflict in Gaza, which generated widespread international condemnation of Israel’s role, provides further evidence that “violence and hatred” will not cease until the return of the Almighty King to Jerusalem.

The same applies in our individual struggles against the forces of evil, both within ourselves and around us. President Obama spoke poignantly of those who “endured the lash of the whip.” Regardless of where we live, regardless of our ethnic background, regardless of the color of our skin, we all have a burdensome heritage of slavery. Sin is truly a cruel taskmaster. Striving to serve the Savior, while toiling in Sin’s domain, we each in our own way mark the passage of these “weary years“; sooner or later, we shed our share of “silent tears.” With what joy then we recall that, in the sight of heaven, we have been emancipated!

Thanks be to God… now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the return you get is sanctification and its end, eternal life” (Rom 6:17,22, RSV).

In Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:26,28).

Thanks be to God, we have a Leader who can and will bring us and this troubled earth the healing, cleansing, and renewal for which we yearn. Following His divine inauguration, we will, by grace, witness the fulfillment of all the promises His Father has made.

When the poor and needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongue is parched with thirst, I the LORD will answer them, I the God of Israel will not forsake them. I will open rivers on the bare heights, and fountains in the midst of the valleys; I will make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water. I will put in the wilderness the cedar, the acacia, the myrtle, and the olive; I will set in the desert the cypress, the plane and the pine together; that men may see and know, may consider and understand together, that the hand of the LORD has done this, the Holy One of Israel has created it” (Isa 41:17-20).

This is our unshakeable hope. In the meantime, this is our prayer:

Thou who has brought us thus far on the way;
Thou who has by Thy might
Led us into the light,
Keep us forever in the path, we pray.

Philip Jones

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