Have you ever wondered why, if we started traveling and set a course due north, once we reached a certain point on the North Pole, we would begin traveling southward – but when traveling in an eastward direction, at no point would we start traveling westward, unless we reversed course?
In his poem first published in 1889, “The Ballad of East and West,” Rudyard Kipling wrote the famous line, “East is east, and west is west – and never the twain shall meet.” On the face of it, it seems he’s pointing to the fact that unlike north and south, there’s never a point where east and west collide.
However, it’s my understanding that Kipling wasn’t referring to directional travel. He was alluding to cultural differences between Eastern and Western societies – their ways of thinking and doing things.
This may have changed somewhat since Kipling’s days, what with the explosion of all forms of communication and its increasingly global influence. Yet even today, peoples from different parts of the globe display markedly distinct forms of behavior, culture, social norms, and values. A person traveling from the U.S.A. to the Middle East, or the Far East, will quickly discover that some things acceptable, even encouraged, in the States can seem offensive to people in other parts of the globe.
Ways of greeting one another, manners at mealtime, even how gratitude is expressed, can vary markedly from culture to culture. So, in that respect, the declaration that “East is east, and west is west – and never the twain shall meet” still holds true.
Thousands of years ago, a psalmist made an important reference to east and west. Attributed as one of the writings of Israel’s King David, it says, “As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:12). For those of us who have been convicted of our sins and God’s judgment, we often tend to carry the guilt of our wrongdoings. This verse – when considered in light of the reality that no matter how far east we travel, we’ll never find ourselves traveling west – helps us to realize the extent to which the Lord has freed us from our sins.
During the Christmas season our thoughts are drawn to images in a tiny baby lying in a crude manger, surrounding Mary, Joseph, some animals in a stable, lowly shepherds who had come to worship the promised Messiah, and perhaps an angel or two hovering nearby. But the ultimate significance of this moment, God taking on human form to one day personally take on the penalty for the sins of humankind, doesn’t receive such focus. Even though it should.
One of the Scriptures’ most profound verses, Romans 5:8, declares, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” About 2,000 years ago, way before any of us could have been even a gleam in someone’s eyes. Jesus went to a crude, cruel cross for our sins – transgressions we would one day commit against the God who created us.
Another verse that follows soon afterward affirms this incredible act wasn’t temporary, nor was it a partial gesture. “The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God” (Romans 6:10). We find this truth expanded upon a bit in 1 Peter 3:18, “For Christ died for us once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.” And through His bodily resurrection, He offers us new, transformed life as well – both in our earthly existence as well as for all eternity.
As it says in John 1:12-13, “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God – children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.”
As Christmas day nears, many of us are fretting over the gifts we plan to give, as well as anticipating the gifts we hope to receive. Perhaps this is a good time – the best time – to consider whether we, or a dear loved one, have received the greatest gift of all: new life in Jesus Christ, with our sins removed as far as the east is from the west.
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Robert J. Tamasy is a veteran journalist, former newspaper editor and magazine editor. Bob has written, co-authored and edited more than 15 books. These include the newly published, ”Marketplace Ambassadors”; “Business At Its Best: Timeless Wisdom from Proverbs for Today’s Workplace”; “Tufting Legacies,” “The Heart of Mentoring,” and “Pursuing Life With a Shepherd’s Heart.” A weekly business meditation he edits, “Monday Manna,” is translated into more than 20 languages and sent via email around the world by CBMC International. The address for his blog is www.bobtamasy.blogspot.com. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.