The Christmas season is now over. It begins all the way back in August, in the Big-Business commercialized sense. It starts before this, way back in July on a certain popular cable network. Christmas really ramps up during Halloween and just after. The whole month of December anticipates the exuberant celebration. Shopping centers, amusement parks, and communities are stringed full of Christmas lights. You cannot get but a few steps in at these places before you hear Wham! or Mariah Carey; you are lucky if you hear some Silent Night or Nat King Cole. Then on the avenue of faith, Advent directs our remembrance of the reason for the season: O come, O come, Emmanuel. We repeat the sounding joy, but how long does it last? Just like that, it is over. December 26th and the calendar days that follow are inevitable.
We are a week removed from reflecting on the wondrous mystery of Christmas, the incarnation of the Son of God. In only a week’s time we rush to reflect upon an entire year’s past. Currently, we say goodbye to 2022 – for good or for ill – and say hello to 2023. But just as December 26 follows the pomp and circumstance of Christmas Eve and Day, January 2nd follows New Year’s Day. Then the third, and the fourth, and so on. The monotony of our timed lives continue. There is a perennial let down tied to the end of December.
The Christian’s True Longing
In God’s providence, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day landed on the Lord’s Day. The Lord’s Day is always a special day for worship. Our time in worship on the Lord’s Sabbath, in which there are fifty-two Sundays in a year, is followed by Monday, and then Tuesday, and so on. Year after year, week after week, and day after day, we go on to remember past celebrations, even past Lord’s days – for good or for ill – living in the present while prayerfully looking towards the future. Why look to the future? Because we know that the Lord has not yet returned, for we see the mounting evidence all around us, that everlasting peace is not yet here.
The joyful gatherings, celebrations, parties, and even the time of “special” worship, can distract us from our very real hope. The aftermath of such occasions can leave us sad, depressed, or angry. Life is not all sugar plums and candy gumdrops. It is not all champagne toasts and noise makers. Our faith can weaken if we hold on to temporary longings, memories from a prior occasion of happiness. We cannot focus so much on past times, wishing they could last longer, saying, “If only it were still Christmas!” “Oh, if we can only gather free of all cares until Midnight every night!” We must move outside of ourselves and our present situations for our lasting hope. Time moves on for us creatures and we can forget what truly matters, the hope that we have in Christ Jesus, his unending reign of peace and joy that cannot be quenched. This hope is initiated in the here and now, and yet awaits its perfection then and there at the King’s return.
The time of Advent has us looking for the coming of Messiah, our Lord Jesus Christ. Indeed, he has come: Immanuel – the incarnate Lord and Christ, Jesus. And how he came is remarkably miraculous. Many Jews in Jesus’s day did not see it. They missed him. Many still miss him today. What Jesus did while he was here: life saving. Jesus’s perfect life of obedience, his death, burial, and resurrection testify to God’s promises towards us. All these things occurred in human history, and then he also ascended to kingly glory as the God-man, now interceding for his bride, the church. New creation has come, though, he did leave us, but not really, kind of. We are not wandering orphans, but the Spirit testifies that just as he went, he will return. And so we wait, looking for our Messiah’s second Advent, where he will not come as a baby in a stable as the first time, but instead as the glorious conqueror of the cosmos, Redeemer of his people. All things will be made new.
With the new year comes expectations for our lives, where they were and where we want them to be. Perhaps 2022 was so good and you are anxious for how 2023 might go. You do not want things to get worse. Perhaps 2022 was miserable and 2023 cannot possibly get any worse. Things can only get better from here. Rather, keeping our attention on the sure hope of Christ’s return can keep us full of joy no matter the outcome of any new year. This side of the heavenly reality of new creation fully realized will leave us with disappointments. This is historically witnessed, theologically explicit, and practically apparent. Yet, knowing that the Judge of the living and the dead will return is a wonderful comfort for the Christian. With this hope, we can go into a new year, our past behind us, our future ahead of us, as we continue in the work that God has given us and in our worship of him.
Our work and worship in this life matters and has a purpose accomplished in the hope of Christ. As in creation, so too in new creation not yet consummated. Instead of working and then taking our seventh day break, we rest in worship on the first day of the week and then labor, realizing that after our week-time labors, we rest again on the first day: a type of the eighth-day everlasting rest. Just as the Sabbath was instituted as humanity’s rest, this first-day-of-the-week rest as the everlasting rest to come, enlivens us to grateful worship and works of neighbor love. Our hope of the great merger between the church militant and the church triumphant in glory under her rightful Head is the longed for jubilee. On that Day new creation will be completed perfectly.
Our Secure Hope
The Parousia of the Lord Jesus Christ is the next and final redemptive event that Christians long for. This is the great Day of the Lord in its second and final act. On this Day, time ends and we in Christ will enter into our everlasting rest in which to worship God in perfection. The yearly cycle of life will continue under God’s providential goodness. There will be moments of exhilaration and deep sadness. The way through it is faith, hope, and love. Hope in Christ in this life, but also, and in times that do not last, hope in Christ for the life to come. In our pilgrim way, in the ups and downs, we sing with glad hearts, “Joyful, joyful, we adore thee,” not only at his first coming, but as we look for his return. “Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word” (2 Thess 2:16-17). Amen.