As we come to the end of one year and anticipate the next, we usually have one of two attitudes: eagerness or dread. We either expect things to improve, or to turn sour.
The reality is, there is a measure of appropriateness to each attitude when they aren’t taken to the extreme. It is right to be hopeful in a world controlled by a good God. It is right to have a measure of apprehension in a world populated by sinners (either regenerate or not).
Our hope can never be merely in the changing of the seasons, or the advance from one year to the next. Our hope must be fixed on something greater and more significant.
We have just celebrated the advent, the coming, of Jesus. Or, to be more precise, we have celebrated his first advent. We’ve celebrated the wonders of the incarnation where God took on flesh in order to bear our punishment.
But there is another advent coming, and it is in this advent that we put our unbridled and unmeasured hope in. Christ will return to claim the world he not only made but died to save.
In Revelation 21:5, God makes that astounding statement, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’ In the world to come the old things – death, mourning, crying, pain – will all be done away with. There will only ever be good things, never bad. Only ever joy, never pain. We have no need to be guarded in our anticipation, because it will be greater than we could even imagine.
As we come to a new year, let us put our hope in that Great Day, the dawn of the new age. ‘He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!’ (Rev 22:20).
CS Lewis once said it would be too difficult to write something like The Screwtape Letters from the opposite point of view. The Screwtape Letters is a fictional record of letters, giving instructions from a senior demon to a junior demon seeking to keep a man from Christ and lure him into sin.
But to attempt something from the angelic perspective? Lewis didn’t have the skill. It seems to be a common lack among storytellers – they can’t imagine the good, pure and holy. The fictional world abounds with dystopian futures, but none that are truly utopian. We either can’t imagine a world that is completely good, or we so sugar-coat it that it becomes boring.
Yet this is the yearning of our hearts. The desire for utopia is the motivator for so many in the political sphere – if only tax rates were… if only those people weren’t allowed here… if only my moral code was legislated – then the world would be perfect!
But utopia will never be gained by man’s laws, or social change, or a health care system, or education, or an immigration policy. Utopia is beyond our reach to achieve. Whether we live in the most progressive or conservative state, we will never reach it.
But a utopia is what God promises to bring. How? By raising up a Branch.
‘Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land’ (Jer 23:5).
The Branch has been raised up. He came, opening the way to the New Creation. And he will come again, this Branch from David, bringing the New Creation with him. O come, let us adore him, Christ the Lord!
What’s the best gift you’ve ever received? Once Bec and I were given an ice-cream maker! It was fun to make our own flavours. Another year Bec was given a few nights at a B&B near Apollo Bay, which was wonderful!
Unsurprisingly, God is the best gift-giver. Nothing we could give can top what he has already given. And God still promises more!
Consider Isaiah 9:6-7. ‘For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore.’
What is God’s gift to us? A son! And what a son he is. We see his authority and majesty all throughout these verses. But surprising, this son will be God himself. He will be called Mighty God, Everlasting Father. We must be careful not to read this verse in isolation, concluding the Father became a man – he didn’t. But Jesus himself said, ‘Whoever has seen me has seen the Father’ (John 14:9).
God was saying that the child would be God, and yet from David. And there is no better gift than that. Nothing you could receive this Christmas could compare with getting God himself. There are many great things to look forward to: an eternal kingdom of justice, righteousness and peace for one. But nothing could compare to God himself.
Do you have God yet? Receive the precious gift of the Son. He died to bring sinners to God. There’s no better gift than that.
God being with his people is a common biblical theme. You can trace it through Genesis, with mankind enjoying God in the garden, then being cast out. Exodus begins with the people enslaved, and ends with God dwelling in the middle of the camp.
But God being in a tent is one thing. The rules and procedures to get through to him, the one man who could approach him – God living in a tent, and then the temple, was only a glimpse of life in the garden.
And finally, we hear the promise longed for since the man and the woman were cast out of the garden. Through Isaiah, God speaks to the wicked king Ahaz:
‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel’ (Isaiah 7:14).
In this child to be born, God would be ‘Immanuel’, meaning ‘God with us. In this child to be born, once again God would walk with his people. We wouldn’t be separated from him by veils or altars or priests. He would be with us, walking and talking with us.
And finally, the child was born. God in the flesh, walking among an unclean and sinful people. Yet he won’t break out in judgement. Instead, he’ll show them mercy.
This God in the flesh will show compassion to the poor and sick. He’ll preach of the coming kingdom, and will raise the dead. But most importantly, he will go to the cross. Rather than coming in judgement on us, he’ll face the judgement of his Father for us.
And because of his death and resurrection, those who trust in him are guaranteed an eternity with God. Everlasting life, with our everlasting God. Because of Christmas, and Easter, those cast out can be welcomed back into his presence.
When it was first announced that I would be the minister at Eaglehawk, one friend was particularly excited about the name.’ But while there’s much to love about Eaglehawk, it’s not what many would call ‘exciting.’
But God is the expert at using the humble for his purposes. In the 8th century BC he made a startling promise:
‘But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days’ (Micah 5:2).
It was in Bethlehem that a ruler would come! No one would have expected that! When the Wise Men came, they went to Jerusalem (Matt 2:1), until they were directed to Bethlehem. Bethlehem was a hick town, not a place of palaces and kings!
But it has a history. From here God had raised up David, youngest of his brothers. God made him king and promised he would always have a son to sit on his throne (2 Sam 7).
And from this same humble place God would bring forth the Great King. The one promised from the beginning. The one who would save his people.
To keep this promise God, at just the right time, had Mary and Joseph travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem. He ordained that a decree would be made by the Roman King (Luke 2:1, Prov 21:1), so his humble king would be born at the promised place.
Perhaps you feel small and powerless. God is the expert at using the weak to shame the strong. Who knows? It might be that through you inviting a friend to a Christmas event they will receive eternal life as they hear of the humble King.