“Because God Sent Me”

“Because God Sent Me”

When they asked Martin Salia why he passed up other opportunities in order to serve as the chief medical officer and the only surgeon at the Gissy Hospital in Sierra Leone, the 44-year-old physician said, “I took this job not because I want to, but I firmly believe that it was a calling and that God wanted me to.”

The 60-bed United Methodist hospital serves one of the poorest neighborhoods in Freetown. It also provides a school, eye clinic, and maternal and child health center. Although Dr. Salia was not treating anyone with Ebola at Gissy, as one of only a few surgeons in the country, he was in constant demand at other hospitals. He said, “I’m confident that I just need to lean on him, trust him, for whatever comes in, because he sent me here.”

Martin Salia died of Ebola on November 17, having been air lifted to the Nebraska Medical Center three days earlier in critical condition.

Anyone who has ever been a patient in the ER or ICU knows the anxiety of waiting for the doctor or surgeon to come, hoping that he or she will be able to do something to stop the pain, to calm the erratic heart, and to bring healing to a troubled body. It’s no exaggeration to say that Dr. Salia brought that gift of healing to others even as he took their condition into himself.

He said he did it “because God sent me here.”

 The Mystery of Why

Reading Dr. Salia’s story during Advent got my imagination going. My mind leaped across the Annunciation to Mary, the birth in Bethlehem, the years of teaching and healing, the cross and the resurrection, all the way to the Ascension when the Risen Christ returned to be “seated at the right hand of God.”

I imagined some incredulous seraphim who never could quite understand the love of God for this sin-sick, rebellious, hard-hearted planet pulling the Lord aside and asking, “Jesus, why did you do that? Why get all tangled up with those messy humans? Why take their sickness into yourself? Why the suffering, the cross, the grave?”

Charles Wesley imagined that possibility when he wrote:

 In vain the firstborn seraph tries

To sound the depths of love divine.

 Wesley’s answer was:

 He left His Father’s throne above

So free, so infinite His grace—

Emptied Himself of all but love,

And bled for Adam’s helpless race.

Perhaps Dr. Salia offered the answer to that seraph’s question when he said, “I took this job because God wanted me to…because he sent me.”

Hail, the heaven-born Prince of Peace:

hail, the Sun of Righteousness.

Light and life to all he brings,

risen with healing in his wings.

Mild he lays his glory by,

born that we no more may die,

born to raise us from the earth,

born to give us second birth.

 Merry Christmas!



Good News or Christmas Drivel?

Christmas Drivel

On the way to and from South Carolina for Thanksgiving, we alternated between two radio stations that were playing non-stop Christmas music. It was an interesting ride.

The music was almost entirely secular, pop songs. Seven hours each way is a long time in the company of Burl Ives singing “Have a Holly Jolly Christmas,” Gene Autry crooning “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” or someone I had never heard before singing, “I Want A Hippopotamus For Christmas.”

There’s nothing wrong with all that. It’s great fun, although I have some serious questions about “Christmas is No Time to Diet.” If you don’t feel a warm glow when Nat King Cole sings “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire” or a lump in your throat when you hear “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” there is something seriously wrong with you.

But most of it is Christmas drivel. It’s candy canes without a drop of protein in it.

Something Better 

I have absolutely no interest in the imagined “War on Christmas” which is being trumped up again this year by the folks at Fox News. I guess it doesn’t matter whether it’s true just so it pumps up the ratings. In fact, there’s almost something refreshing about the secular Christmas of alcohol-soaked parties, slick marketing, and sales reports having it’s own language and music.

The near absence of traditional Christmas carol on the airwaves didn’t make me angry or defensive. It made me sad.

It reminded me that both in terms of the music and the message, the church has something better to offer to a world that is suffering from racial bigotry, economic injustice, intractable poverty and relentless violence. In the real world of our everyday lives, “Winter Wonderland” can’t hold a candle to “Joy to the World” declaring:

No more let sins and sorrows grow,

Nor thorns infest the ground.

He comes to make

His blessings flow

Far as the curse is found.

 The good news the carols proclaim is, in fact, the word for which the world is most deeply longing.

Good News from the Carols

The good news is distinctly counter-cultural. It announces a God who comes, not among the rich and powerful, but among the poor, oppressed and marginalized. Like Herod, we would look for the next king in Buckingham Palace, not among the refugees who are streaming from Syria into Jordan. We’d look for him in the White House, not in the homeless shelter. But there he is, “Away in a manger” with “no crib for a bed.”

The good news is also politically subversive. It undermines the “might makes right” arrogance of people and nations that assume they can control the world by their force and power. After all, Herod would not have slaughtered the children of Bethlehem in order to stop “Frosty the Snowman.”

It’s also good news of relentless hope. It declares that there is an alternative to the ways of living to which we have sadly become so accustomed and it invites us to live now in ways that are consistent with the way this world will be when:

He rules the world with truth and grace,

And makes the nations prove

The glories of His righteousness,

And wonders of His love.

So, go ahead. “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” Ring those “Jingle Bells” as your “Rock Around the Christmas Tree.” But when you come down from your sugar high and feel an insatiable hunger for something more, spend your time with the carols that announce good new that this old world and all of our weary souls are desperate to hear.

Hail the heav’n-born Prince of Peace!

Hail the Son of Righteousness!

Light and life to all He brings

Ris’n with healing in His wings

Mild He lays His glory by

Born that we no more may die

Born to raise us from the earth

Born to give us second birth

Hark! The herald angels sing

“Glory to the newborn King!”

 Now, there’s a Christmas song worth singing!