Having been raised by a military veteran of World War II, I was taught to respect and appreciate my country and my freedom, and to demonstrate that in patriotic ways. Patriotism for my country runs deep in my being, even when I see flaws in its people or politics, and I am grateful for hard-won freedoms. Seeing a waving flag and hearing or singing the national anthem, of either Canada or the U.S., gives me goose bumps.
Lloyd and I have had the experience, over the years, of celebrating both of our nations’ birthdays in each of those nations’ capital cities. I nearly thought I had lost him among the thousands of people celebrating the 4th of July on the Mall (not a shopping center, but a long, long park) in Washington, D.C. on our honeymoon, when he went to get some cold drinks from a concession stand and took ever so long to pick his way between the people back to our picnic blanket. I was relieved he found me again! We spent Canada Day in Ottawa several years ago, enjoying the music, the people, and the fireworks around Parliament Hill. One of the highlights of the day was late that evening, after the fireworks, when a little girl started singing “O Canada” in the middle of Tim Horton’s; how could we resist joining in (especially when you’ve sung with children as much as I have)?! I would recommend that every family celebrate their nation’s birthday in their nation’s capital at least once; it makes for a memorable celebration of your country, its history and future, and your part in it.
Last year we spent Canada Day at Heritage Park and witnessed a Canadian citizenship ceremony. New Canadians from all over the world gathered to take the oath of citizenship, pledging their allegiance to their new homeland. Grateful for the freedom and opportunities they found in Canada, they had studied for and taken the citizenship test, and were ready to surrender their Permanent Resident Cards and obtain new Canadian passports—proof of their new citizenship. The occasion was marked with dignity, ceremony, photos, affirmation by family and friends, lots of rejoicing, and even cupcakes! It was truly an “event.”
The citizenship ceremony made a deep impression on me. The reasons for leaving an old country behind were enumerated, the benefits of the new country extolled, and the rights and responsibilities of Canadian citizenship clearly defined. Young and old, singles and entire families were making a new start.
Isn’t that really what happens when we join God’s family by inviting Jesus Christ to be our personal Savior? Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! (2 Cor. 5:17) We make a new start, leaving the old way of life behind, recognizing the blessings of our new life in Christ, and realizing that we have new rights, responsibilities and priorities in obeying God and the way He wants us to live. We become citizens of heaven, joining together with believers, collectively called the Church, to work for and build His kingdom.
But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body. (Philippians 3:20)
Thinking about the citizenship analogy, I thought about how we demonstrate our “belonging” within the Church. Do we, as believers, recognize and celebrate the changes that take place in our lives because of our faith in Jesus? Are we bold about declaring our faith to others? Do we accept the new responsibilities and priorities that come with living our lives for God—soaking in His Word, obeying God’s direction through it, asking Him for guidance, worshiping Him in praise and gratitude, seeking to grow to know Him better? Do we become part of, and participate in, the local church, knowing that this community is where we belong locally, and this is where we can work with others to experience and share God’s love with others and the world, growing, working toward, and looking forward to the day when we will all be together in “one country,” the Kingdom of Heaven? Do we welcome and rejoice with those who join God’s family, and with those who declare their faith by being baptized (a formal, public declaration of faith–sort of like an oath of citizenship)?
Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. (Ephesians 2:19 – 22)
Just like new citizens in our country, we are so blessed to be accepted by God into His family and to become part of Christ’s Body, the Church. Just as any citizen will find that not everything about his or her country is perfect or even to his liking, so, too, believers find that not everything in the church is perfect; we are all human. But God, the Eternal King, is perfect, and we, the citizens of heaven, can be “built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.”
The turn of phrase that people around the world are “dying for freedom” is very true; not only are they eager to experience what we take for granted, many die physically in the desire to be free. Jesus has already died for our spiritual freedom, to enable us to be citizens of heaven. At this time of year, it would be good for us to reflect on our citizenship and what it means to us, in both senses–patriotic and spiritual. Celebrate your citizenship!
Ruler Supreme, who hearest humble prayer, hold our dominion in Thy loving care. Help us to find, O God, in Thee a lasting rich reward, as waiting for the better day, we ever stand on guard. Amen
(R. Stanley Weir, O Canada)
Something to do:
Study the words of the national anthem (all the verses!) and see how meaningful they are.
Celebrate with meaning and intention on our nation’s birthday. How does your celebration demonstrate your appreciation for and commitment to your country?
Attend a citizenship ceremony and listen carefully.
Attend a baptismal service and think about what it means to the person being baptized and to the church body. Congratulate him or her after the service.
Or perhaps you need to set a date to be baptized to declare your allegiance to our God.
Contributed by Sharon Anderson