I’ve been struggling with my Christmas spirit, or lack thereof, so far this season.
But the truth is that this struggle unusual for me – I often struggle with Christmas. Don’t get me wrong – the birth of Jesus is the greatest gift ever! I love the family time as well! But I often struggle with the incongruity between the “now” and the “not yet.”
In essence, this has been my struggle: In the Christmas season, we sing the classic hymn, “Joy to the world, the Lord is come.” But to be honest, it feels fake to sing this amidst so much turmoil in the world. And there is so much turmoil. So, so much.
Much of the world does not know or feel joy, both Christians and non-Christians alike.
The song goes on to say, “No more let sin and sorrows grow, nor thorns infest the ground, He comes to make his blessings flow, far as the curse is found.” Yet the curse continues to be found everywhere. There does not seem to be a flowing of blessings. There is war, death, famine, sickness, poverty, persecution, and so much more.
So to help with this paradox, Christians spend time during Christmas talking Christ’s return, when all things will be made right. We celebrate His birth, but we focus on His coming again as the next best thing. The problem is that there is a lot of time in between these two events which feels quite joyless and very painful.
But a closer look at the lyrics of the hymn states, “Joy to the world, the Lord IS come.” “IS” is present tense. “IS” is now. Many have changed the words of this song to “the Lord HAS come.” But that change puts the presence of Christ in the past and that creates a serious challenge for us today! If we are celebrating something that happened 2,000 years ago, which gives me a ticket to go to heaven when I die, what does that mean for today? Not much. And that is just not the case. The Lord IS come. He IS here.
We are not a people simply waiting. We are to continue the work that Christ started. Christ is with us today in the 2.3 billion people who call themselves Christians! We are in a time of waiting for Christ’s return, but we are not only in waiting mode. Waiting is a time of inactivity. Waiting is a time of looking and longing. Waiting is focused on the future and not on the present.
We are not just to be waiting for Christ’s return. We are the hands and feet of Christ every day until He returns. We are agents of reconciliation. The gift that came so long ago continues to be with us. As we lament war and conflict and death, we get to be part of the solution.
I think Christmas is a dark and lonely time for many because there is such a disconnect between the joy of the birth of Jesus and the present suffering that we are in. And when our answer to this is that “one day He will come again,” we miss out on the hugely important presence of Christ with us today.
Christ’s birth was not the appetizer with the full meal coming at His return. The work for the restoration of this world is not for God alone to do. We are not simply waiting for Him to act…and wondering why He tarries…and questioning His goodness while the world languishes in darkness, and death, and despair. We join Him. He calls…equips…and blesses us to be a blessing.
Christ in us…Christ IS come…we continue to live out and with the gift that came long ago.
But what about all the pain and suffering in the world? It’s true that I can’t end the conflicts in the Ukraine, Middle East, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Nigeria, or elsewhere. But I can be an agent of reconciliation in my own sphere of influence. I can love my neighbor as myself. I can speak the truth in love. I can do all my work as an act of worship for the King. I can care for creation so that it will flourish. I can be a steward of my time, talent, and treasure to make this world a better place. I can be salt, light, and leaven. I can be prophet, priest, ambassador, saint, king.
And I can pray. I can encourage others to have compassion, capacity, competence and courage in their spheres of influence. I can support agents of reconciliation in those places that I can’t personally reach. And together, we can make the world a better place. We bring the Kingdom of Heaven on earth, a little bit of time, being faithful UNTIL He comes again.
I can because of Christ in me. What a gift that would be if I do it well! A gift that keeps on giving to the glory of God, in gratefulness to the Son, and only because of the Holy Spirit!
That is a message that gives me hope. That is a message that can make me feel good about celebrating Christmas. I’m thankful that the Lord IS come!