Tuesday, January 11, 2011

On Citizenship...

I had the privilege to attend a Naturalization Ceremony now, months ago. I’d always heard how moving they were, and had always hoped to see one. My first experience in being invited to such a celebration was in 1993 when a janitor at our church asked me to help him answer some of the questions for which he needed to be prepared in his naturalization test… questions that some of our graduates of schools today can’t seem to answer. He, his wife and family had escaped from Cuba. We often prayed for his brothers and sisters as they were making attempts over the years to make it to the US Air Force airfield where they would be safe and have asylum privileges. They just had to get past the land mines and bullets first. Several had failed, sitting years in a less than comfortable prison. But, as a mom with small children, I passed up the opportunity to see him naturalized. I concluded it to be too much work to get ready and cart 4 kids, age 3 to 10 down to the Houston court! That day, we could have observed 2,000 take their oath, say the pledge and become citizens. I will always think fondly as I remember his excitement that he was now an American… with a very patriotic heart.

Now, 18 years later, I found myself watching the event of 50 taking the oath of citizenship… representing Iran, Afghanistan, Togo, Canada, UK, and about 25 other nations. Those waiting to be naturalized were dressed for the occasion…dresses and suits, without exception. They stood before 3 judges whose first duty was to declare the school auditorium where we were located, a courtroom. The judges gave personal messages and directives to the anticipating foreigners… many of whom had never had voting privileges! The rest of us, the many witnesses, friends, surrounded them in the bleachers, were waiting and listening to their pledge and swearing-in. And then, in a first act as new citizens, we joined them in the Pledge of Allegiance… followed by the proclamation of their citizenship and welcoming them to American responsibilities and privileges.

At that moment, the witnesses came alive. The new citizens beamed…and the crowd present to greet them erupted in cheering. Not just normal cheering, but with loud whoops, hollers and whistling… for such a length of time that I began to wonder if it would come to an end. It went on and on. Finally, it settled enough that final thoughts were declared by the judges, and the “witnesses” swooped down to the new citizens and greeted them. Voter registration and Social Security lines formed to apply for the privileges now afforded them as American citizens. And, I couldn’t help but wonder….

... about the excitement and exuberance displayed in the heavenlies over one gaining citizenship in the kingdom of GOD. From the Word we know heaven celebrates, but as I clapped and cheered for the new Americans, my heart filled with both wonder and imagination of what happens each time GOD’s kingdom welcomes another citizen. How loud is that heavenly shout of joy and excitement? How long does it last? Do they wait with great anticipation or longing to welcome the new citizen home, like my anxiousness to get to my friend Kossi to welcome him as an American? And at the same time, there was an anticipation… of my return to my home. In fact, a citizenship that is not of this world. And I wondered, do I live like a foreigner longing for a better place, preparing for the citizenship I’ve been given in His kingdom? Do I study to be better prepared for the privileges of citizenship with the LORD? Am I willing to be self-sacrificing for this incredible privilege? Do I understand what incredible gifts I’ve been given? Not only as a citizen in America, but also heaven?

After hugs, pictures and watching many celebrate their new citizenship in a faulty, though wonderful nation and hearing their statements about this day being a dream come true, I left the ceremony thankful regarding for where I live. My heart was most grateful for America, my birth home, a place where many long to belong. But my greatest joy was in another place…a kingdom where I’d been given a citizenship that was indescribable and irrevocable… oh, so much more than of which I have dreamed. As I drove away, I imagined the cheering witnesses surrounding my entrance into that kingdom 37 years ago, when I placed my trust in Jesus’ blood for my forgiveness of sin…

And then, remembering the excitement of the national naturalization in which I had just participated, I reflected on the fact this gathering was a dim reflection in comparison to the day a Believer enters the Kingdom of the One and only GOD for his eternal rest!

May our hearts fully embrace with a great tenderness, thankfulness and anticipation the wonder of that truth!

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