“The Coming of the Christ, Our Confident Hope in Him, And the Coming of Another New Year” - By Pastor Mark Wilcoxson
“Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom His favor rests!’” – Luke 2:13-14
2016 was a challenging year for many of us, including my family and me personally. We’ve seen friends and family depart from among us – geographically, perhaps relationally, as well as this life to the next. We’ve suffered personal setbacks – jobs lost; sicknesses, injuries, and diseases borne; marriages and families disrupted. Uncertainty, instability, even evil seem to abound all around us.
Unsettling circumstances are on the rise in the world, increasing in both frequency and effect. What will the election down south mean for the future? More to the point: Is anyone able to take in the scale and human cost of the devastation in Syria? Terror — or the threat of terror — seems the new norm. Such turbulence can overwhelm us; terrible realities cause us to look away, want to run, and try to hide; and, the uncertainties they bring can lead us into disillusionment, despair, or dissociation, lacking hope.
In His model (disciple’s) prayer, might Jesus mostly have been teaching us to pray to our heavenly Father for persisting faith and delivering hope and against temptations of disillusionment, despair, and dissociation:
“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name ... Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one” (Matthew 6:9, 12-13)
Such temptations often manifest in our own unbelief and inability to forgive. Don’t they? Alternatively, we might allow God to use persistent struggles and growing instabilities to humble us into a deeper dependence upon Him, the God who raises the dead: “Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread” (Matthew 6:10-11).
As many of you will know, I’d be lying if I presented — or tried to present — a pristine, personal picture of rock-solid faith, standing firmly in all hope against the gale-forcewinds of whatever may come. Over the last year and a bit, I’ve often had to ask myself: Upon whom (or what) is my hope really built? Why do these temporal circumstances affect me so? If my faith really lies exclusively in the grace of the God who raises the dead through the saving and justifying Christ whom He sent, then why am I feeling so low and for so long? And, why do I have so little to give?
The good news is that God’s Word written in the Bible is full of such honest questions — especially in The Psalms, but also in many other places — as well as the answers to them:
“Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise Him, My Savior and My God.” – Psalm 42:5
“For when we came into Macedonia, this body of ours had no rest, but we were harassed at every turn—conflicts on the outside, fears within. But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus, and not only by his coming but also by the comfort you had given him. He told us about your longing for me, your deep sorrow, your ardent concern for me, so that my joy was greater than ever.” – 2 Corinthians 7:5-7
On the one hand, we’re all human and we all experience circumstances and emotions common to all human beings. But on the other, we Christians – we followers and disciples of Jesus Christ – are to live overcoming lives in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Sometimes, I confess, I don’t even know what “living by the power of the Holy Spirit” means, really, or what it would, or could, or should look like – for me, or for you, for us as a congregation. … Except, the angels, the Psalmist, and the Apostle all seem to be telling us that “living by the power of the Holy Spirit” looks like not giving up when we would or we could, not losing hope when we’re tempted to, and looking to heaven when we’re downcast in vision and heart.
So, why am I writing such a dreary, potentially depressing, and quite possibly discouraging article in the Christmas and New Year’s issue of Bethesda News – the last issue of 2016? Here’s why ...
First, I’m trying to be honest and real, trying to live an authentic Christian life — with you — in our place and time by God’s grace, Word, and Spirit. And the earthly reality is that neither life nor Christmas are happy-happy occasions for everyone all the time.
Second, I want to remind us all – even as I am reminding myself – that however difficult our circumstances or dark in our part of the world, it’s much more difficult and darker in someone else’s part of the world (such as Syria). And for all of us, though Christianity might not seem “to work” from the short-term perspective of this earthly life, in the light of God’s eternity, Jesus Christ is our only hope!
Third, I want to encourage us all — as individuals, families, and church — to overcome our circumstances and illuminate the darkness around us by living overcoming lives by the power of the Holy Spirit. And as noted earlier, sometimes this looks like not quitting, not giving up. Fourth, in our humble dependence on the God who raises the dead by the power of that same Holy Spirit, I’d ask you to consider joining me in making some new (or renewed) commitments for the New Year, 2017. We can call them ’holy resolutions,’ if you like:
1. Let’s recommit ourselves to fidelity to the One True and Living God, being joyful and responsible followers of Jesus Christ in community with His people. This may mean we increase our investments of time, energy, attention, and finances to foster improved and lasting relationships to the glory of God and to advance His mission.
2. Let’s recommit ourselves to fidelity to the Gospel of grace that saves sinners and sustains God’s people. This too may require an increase in our investments of time, energy, attention, and finances to reach the unreached and disciple the reached.
3. Let’s recommit ourselves to fidelity to (and in) our families — our spouses and children, our parents and siblings. This may also mean that we increase our investments of time, energy, attention, and finances to foster better and deepening relationships.
4. Let’s recommit ourselves to fidelity to ourselves, recognizing that we are frail human beings who need care and nurture. This is not an appeal to selfish indulgence; — far from it! (We’ve all had enough of that. Haven’t we?) Instead, it’s a personal and congregational call to take care of ourselves and each other, so we can love God and serve others.
I and my family wish you and your families much love, joy, faith, and hope through Christ Jesus our Lord during this blessed season in which we celebrate His first coming, even as we anticipate His return! God bless you, and Merry CHRISTmas!