Anticipation of the Eternal
BY DAN KIEHL, Senior Pastor of Oakwood Presbyterian Church
Okay, you can stop now, sit down, take a few breaths, sip some tea or coffee, and reflect. That bright blur of red and green that just went past you was the Christmas season; it’s over now, and life is back to normal (at least it will be, as soon as you get around to taking down the decorations and lights and returning the wrong-sized presents).
I hope that this most recent celebration of the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ was a time of spiritual renewal and refocusing. If so, then congratulations to you for resisting the temptation to overindulge in the materialistic binge that our consumer-driven culture has created alongside of Christmas. Hopefully, for most of us Christians, the first few days of the New Year feel like a bright new opportunity for serving and knowing the Lord, not a hangover from too much shopping and partying.
The first few weeks of the New Year can be blasé for many of us because we’ve been living in anticipation of the celebrations at the end of December for so long. Once they’re finished, we look ahead to see what we should be looking forward to now. That’s one of the evidences that we are made in the image of our Creator. Unlike the other creatures He has made, we need something to look forward to. We thrive on anticipation and we wither and die in the face of hopelessness.
Unfortunately, the months of January, February, and March can be a pretty bleak stretch of regular, mundane life. What’s there to look forward to? Let’s see…there’s the Super Bowl, but if your favorite team isn’t involved, then most of the luster of that event will be gone. There’s Valentine’s Day, but I’m not much of a romantic, so I’m doing well if I even remember to buy my sweetheart a card (for the umpteenth time, sorry Suzanne!). There’s Groundhog Day, which we native Western Pennsylvanians do celebrate as a major holiday, but it’s hard to rally much excitement for that around here. Ah, yes…pitchers and catchers report in mid-February, and spring training for major league baseball teams gets into gear at the beginning of March. But that seems so far away in the first week of January.
What’s there to live for in January and February? What’s there to look forward to? If your life revolves around work, sports, parties, or shopping, then not much. And, sadly, that describes the lives of all too many people around us. Surely it doesn’t describe us, does it?
For the disciple of Jesus Christ, the risen Savior and Lord of the universe, our lives must be different. In Hebrews 11, we have the descriptions of the lives of our spiritual forefathers and foremothers. Abraham’s life of anticipation is portrayed in this way: “By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.” Hebrews 11:9-10. Here’s the description of Moses’ lifestyle: “By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward.” Hebrews 11:24-26. The whole passage ends with this exhortation to us: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:1-2. The life of faith is a life of intense anticipation, where we are to be continually looking forward to the wealth and pleasures of Christ’s eternal kingdom.
That doesn’t mean that we live totally unsatisfied lives here and now. We enjoy the gifts of God’s creation, and, even better, we know Who to thank. We taste of the eternal things of Christ’s Kingdom when we read the Scriptures, pray, worship, and witness to the Gospel. We daily experience the presence and joy of the Lord.
But we know that we are on a journey and a mission, and that we have not arrived. And the stronger our faith grows, the less satisfied we are with temporal things and the more we hunger and thirst for eternal things. Paul described his own life as a pursuit to know Christ, and he goes on to say in Philippians 3:12-14, “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” This deep desire to know the fullness of life in Christ is what drives people with faith in Christ, no matter how boring or bleak our earthly circumstances.