Friday, December 22, 2017

Turn the Page - Advent Meditation

(This is part of a set of daily Advent meditations I'll be posting. They're going up a day early so that you can use them, if you wish, for private reflection in this season of anticipation and preparation.)

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.
-1 Thessalonians 4:13–17

“Christmas is coming.”

My children daily sound this refrain, joyfully counting the days. My wife says it too, although for her it carries a hint of desperation for all that must still be done. “Christmas is coming,” the carolers sing and the advertisers cajole.

And they are right. Christmas is coming. But not on the 25th, not in a day or two, not in the sense of the holiday that has arrived. Christmas is coming for creation itself, that future Christmas which Paul speaks of in this letter to the church in Thessalonica.

Here are these Christians, facing the fact that though they've embraced this new faith, the world is still unchanged. The apostle doesn't write and tell them to pretend everything is fine and merry. They will grieve. But he writes “that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.” (1 Thessalonians 4:13a) What Paul then proclaims is a second Christmas, a second coming of Jesus Christ, as that hope. “Since we believe that Jesus died and rose again,” Paul says, “the Lord himself will descend from heaven.” (1 Thessalonians 4:14a,16a)

At that descending, Paul encourages them, that which now causes them grief will be undone. “And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.” (1 Thessalonians 4:16b-17)

While it causes certain friends much consternation, I will sometimes skip ahead and read the ending of novels while still in the middle of them. This is a great character failing, I admit, but sometimes I have to do it. The tension I feel, the distress at the rising conflict and the heroes' suffering in the midst of it – some part of me wants to know how it ends. Whether it ends. Only in knowing the ending can I endure the struggle that lies between now and then.

Christmas isn't only about something that happened two thousand years ago, although of course that is a part of it. Christmas is also a peek forward, a rifling to the last pages in order to know how it ends. It comes with a promise – that just as this child came once to earth, so He will return.

Which doesn't remove the grief. It doesn't solve all of our struggles. But it allows us to grieve as those who have hope, because we know that the end of the story is light and life everlasting. That is where we are headed, and in knowing that, we can bear to turn the next page.

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light;
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow;
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.

Ring out the grief that saps the mind,
For those that here we see no more;
Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.

Ring out a slowly dying cause,
And ancient forms of party strife;
Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws.

Ring out the want, the care, the sin,
The faithless coldness of the times;
Ring out, ring out my mournful rimes
But ring the fuller minstrel in...

Ring out old shapes of foul disease;
Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.

Ring in the valiant man and free,
The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be.

-Alfred Lord Tennyson, A New Year's Poem

No comments:

Post a Comment