The “Already/Not Yet” Tension of Christmas and Our Lives

As I sit and write this blog post, it is Christmas Eve, and I find myself sitting and reflecting about this season, this story, and my life. I would assume that the majority of individuals spent this day rushing around and buying last minute gifts, wrapping the ones that they plan to give, or cooking and cleaning in anticipation of tomorrow’s events. Not me. I have been sitting, (sometimes in quiet solitude, sometimes in a noisy room) and reflecting on what all this really means.

As I consider what Christmas is all about, I could easily get caught up in defending it’s true meaning or complaining about the consumerism that surrounds the event. There is even the temptation to ignore those inconsistencies by just focusing on the importance of family relationships or the occasional heart warming stories that are often told during this season. However, today I find myself reflecting on certain, maybe unnoticed, aspects of what this season should really represent.

First of all, as I have been reading passages from the gospel chronicles, I can’t help but notice the “Already/Not yet” dynamic that is so evident in almost every story. The birth narrative can serve as an example of this. We read that this event was a “present salvation” in the first century. Salvation had come to the world through the birth of the messiah. I find this fascinating that this is the proclamation because even at Jesus’ birth, sin is still reigning in the hearts of humanity. Creation is still affected from the curse. Even throughout the narrative of the life and ministry of Christ we see example after example of how sin is still present.  But, in conjunction with this evidence of sin is also a beautiful picture of Christ’s power over sin: Healings, forgiveness, confronting religiosity. There is just so much about the life of Christ that makes me want to jump out of my seat and say, “Yes! Take that!” or, “Yes! We need more of this!” and yet in my own life I still feel the effects of sin: Bad choices, selfishness, and insecurities. Where is this salvation in my own life that I so want to cheer on when I see it displayed in others? Certainly I can see evidences of salvation in my life. For sure, I am not the same man that I was before Christ called me. There is an emerging new life; there have been many victories; there have been new battles grounds identified that have become the focus for further advancement of God‘s sanctification in my life. With this reflection I began to notice the theological parallels between my own experiences and the birth narrative of Christ. Specifically, the “already” and “not yet” distinctions.

Already. This will be my little girl‘s first Christmas. For her, it’s just another day. For all of us, it’s a whole new experience filled with joy and wonder at this new addition to our family. I love to just sit and watch her play, taking in all the uniqueness of this season, from lights to decorations. I often wonder what she is thinking? What does she think of all of this? Does she think that we have gone overboard, making too big of a deal of it all. There is no doubt this little girl has enriched our lives in the present. There is so much anticipation for her future… What will she look like as a little girl? Will she want to dance or will she play sports? What will her favorite color be? What kind of dad will I be to her? These are the thoughts that flood my mind as I look into her innocent little eyes that are full of wonder… full of potential.

Not Yet. Compare that feeling with the reality that has hit me of this also being the first Christmas without my mom. As Christmas festivities begin there will no doubt be a sense of loss in my heart. My mom provided us with so many Christmas memories that still flood my mind. If I closed my eyes right now, its almost like I can still smell the apple cider heating up on the stove and the smell of our traditional Christmas morning French-toast breakfast. Man, it was the greatest! Mom and I were always the ones that decorated the tree and I will always remember the freedom she gave me in that. Some years, that tree was quite gaudy, as I loved putting icicles on the tree. None of the ornaments matched, but each one had there own story and significance behind it.

I was by her side as she passed from this life into her reward. Watching her every breath as if it were a precious watch counting down the seconds. Sitting in the room that night, holding her hand, my heart was flooded with memory after memory of my experiences with her; some long forgot by my conscience memory but seemingly resurrected from my subconscious as a gift from God for this very time. As she breathed her last breath it was almost like time stood still… I think my heart stopped momentarily in tandem with hers. But as hers ceased to rejuvenate, mine picked up its rhythm again as I had to continue on in this life. In that moment it became apparent to me that my life was going to be very different from that day forward. I went home and held my little girl. I looked into her eyes and knew that there was something bigger than me going on here. Somehow, I believe that I experienced, in very tangible way, one aspect of “already/not yet.”

This Christmas, my dad will wake up in his house alone; his sense of loss greatly trumping mine. But I don’t sit and dwell on what is not; instead, I choose to dwell on what is. Or better yet, what the gospel makes possible. My mom’s absence from us this Christmas is our loss, not hers. I am rejoicing in the promises of Scripture that foresaw the difficulty we would all have when we lose loved ones in Christ and provided so many reassuring promises of greater days than this. The promise is of a glorious reunion in a much larger family. There are promised feasts, singing, rejoicing, dancing, and true freedom. A freedom from even a thought that someday any of these things would be taken from us again by death or sin because they have been soundly defeated!

Today, I am thankful for the blessing of a little girl in my home that promises to bring much joy in the present. Simultaneously, my heart yearns for the day I will experience the incredible presence of God alongside a lady that has gone on before me. I am thankful for the gospel story that is true already, but one day, will be experienced in a much more unfettered way. Already/Not Yet.

Yes, this Christmas I will be reflecting on how the gospel speaks directly and practically to our lives… right now… and yet that same gospel transcends our present existence and speaks to something beyond our comprehension. Brothers and sisters, we have much to be thankful for, much to remember and much to rejoice over! Merry Christmas, and may the Lord bless you and keep you! Amen.

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A New Year, A New Day

A New Year, A New DayROSH HASHANAH slide
Rosh Hashanah – Feast of Trumpets

23 And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying,
24 “Speak to the people of Israel, saying, In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall observe a day of solemn rest, a memorial proclaimed with blast of trumpets, a holy convocation.
25 You shall not do any ordinary work, and you shall present a food offering to the LORD.”
Leviticus 23:23-24

Rosh Hashanah marks the beginning of the Hebrew New Year.  Rosh Hashanah literally means, the head of the year.  It is observed during the first two days of the month of Tishri (the seventh ‘new moon’ of the year).

Rosh Hashanah marks the beginning of the Ten Days of Awe which is a period of time for repentance, self-examination, and prayer which culminates on the fast day of Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement).

Rosh Hashanah is also known as the Feast of Trumpets (Yom Teru’ah).  Tradition states that the universe was created by the Lord and Rosh Hashanah marks the sixth day of creation, when the Lord created Adam and Eve.

In Leviticus 23:24 the Lord commands his people to remember with the proclamation of trumpets.  God’s people would traditionally use a shofar (ram’s horn) for such an occasion.  It is blasted at least 100 times during a traditional Rosh Hashanah service thus satisfying the command to make noise on this day.

The Blowing of the Shofar
The blowing of the Shofar is the only actual command in Scripture as to how this feast is to be observed.  The Bible does not give a reason for the blowing of the Shofar but the Rabbis felt as though there should be some significance to the blasts.  The Rabbis have spent much time in the Talmud concerning the reasons for the blowing of the trumpets.

The Tekiah
The first category of sound, known as the tekiah, is a long, single blast. This is a straight, plain, smooth, continuous note and it is to symbolize the expression of joy and contentment.

The Shevarim
The second category, known as the shevarim, is three short blasts. This is a combination of three broken notes to symbolize weeping.

The Truah
The third category of sound is known as the truah. These are extremely short blasts that are a combination of nine staccato notes in a very quick succession of short trills. This symbolizes trepidation, sorrow, and sobbing.

The Tekiah Gedolah
The fourth category is known as the tekiah gedolah, which means “the great tekiah” or “the last trump.” This one symbolizes the hope of redemption. It is a very long, final note.

In these one hundred blasts, the first three categories are combined back and forth until there is a total of ninety-nine sounds. Then comes the one hundredth, the tekiah gedolah, a very long-sustained note—as long as the trumpeter had breath to hold it—and it is known as “the last trump.”

Prayer, Repentance, and the Gospel
As we observe this Holy feast, we think back through this past year.  How have we lived our lives?  How have you lived your life?  Has your life been spent worshiping the Lord or worshiping you?  Who does your life glorify?  Who sits on the throne of your heart?

What areas of your life do you need to seek repentance and the Lord’s forgiveness?
What areas of your life are not saturated in the gospel of Jesus Christ?
Is there someone in your life in which you need to seek forgiveness?
Is there someone in your life in which you need to forgive?

As we move into these days of prayer, ask the Lord for a humble heart, a trusting heart, and a heart that longs to know him more (Philippians 3:10-14).

How will you live this next year?  Will you allow the weight of sin to defeat you or will you allow the power of the gospel to redeem you?

May we remember the gospel of Jesus Christ and the power that is in his resurrection.  May we know that Christ stands in our place, takes the sin that is in us and replaces it with his righteousness.  May we know Jesus and may we trust that he is enough.

As you move into this week, remember the words of Paul:

[10] that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, [11] that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
[12] 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. [13] 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, [14] I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
(Philippians 3:10-14 ESV)

Throughout the Ten Days of Awe (Sep.4 – 13) check back here as we post a devotional for each day.