Several summers ago, my wife and I went to a nearby park for the annual 4th of July fireworks show. We got great seats, right on the grassy hill overlooking the field where they set off the explosives. I love fireworks, and this year was particularly spectacular. We were enthralled by the show, but about halfway through the event, an approaching severe thunderstorm forced the night to end early and sent us all scurrying to our cars.
That night is burned into my memory because of a vivid shift in perspective that happened as the storm hit. We had been sitting on our blankets marveling at the brightly colored fireworks, but our show was quickly dwarfed as the rumbling, flashing bank of dark clouds rolled in. I can still remember seeing the lightning exploding across the sky from a towering mountain of storm clouds behind the fireworks, and all of a sudden, our light show seemed puny by comparison. Even the noise of “bombs bursting in air” was drowned out by the rising wind and steady rumbling thunder.
The incoming storm exposed our fireworks as the silly light show that they really were. Moments before, we had been amazed by the sights and sounds. But now, against the backdrop of the approaching storm, our biggest fireworks seemed like no more than the sparklers that kids hold in the backyard. They just weren’t impressive anymore, overshadowed by a vastly superior spectacle. God’s fireworks were, frankly, much better than ours.
I learned a valuable lesson that night about our patriotic celebrations. Patriotism, freedom, and national independence are all worthy causes of celebration. We should be thankful for those gifts, and cherish and defend them as blessings from God. But I’m reminded of what the prophet Isaiah reminded God’s people thousands of years ago:
Behold, the nations are like a drop in the bucket, and are accounted as dust on the scales. (Isaiah 40:15)
Every nation, from glorious empires of the past to the United States today, are a drop in the bucket in comparison to the spectacle and majesty of Jesus’ kingdom. The greatness of America is like our feeble firework display compared to the greatness of the King of kings. Daniel reminded King Nebuchadnezzar– who was overly enamored of his own imagined significance– that only one kingdom and one King have lasting power. “His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and his dominion endures from generation to generation” (Daniel 4:3). The church of Jesus Christ, in its seeming weakness, in the end triumphs over the gates of hell and every hostile power. When every empire has crumbled to dust, with every king and president discarded on the dustbin of history, Jesus will still be King and his kingdom will still be marching on. When the words of the Star Spangled Banner are forgotten, the only anthem that matters will still echo through eternity:
“The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever!” (Revelation 11:15)
So today, I’m celebrating my national freedom for the fleeting gift it is, while pledging my allegiance to the Kingdom that stands forever, and to the risen King who sits enthroned above the nations. Today, and every day and forever: Hail to the King!