…versus the year we may get.
The fireworks have streamed through the midnight sky, “Auld Lang Syne” has been sung, and 2018 has dawned fresh with possibility and, for many, a renewed sense of hope. Glasses raised we toast our friends and petition our God for a stress-free, healthy, and happy year. And while we can certainly wish, hope, and work toward this goal, reality is simple and stark: the year we hope for will very likely not be the year we receive.
Some might say that I am too down-trodden by the events of the past year to pen a post on hope for the new; but I’ve found that when we are at our low points (and often most honest points) God works and ministry rolls out. I’m tired of all the regurgitated, trite Christian idioms that we toss about to sooth our beleaguered souls but in actuality do more harm that good. I’m all for authenticity – straight up, brutal truth. So, while in one breath I wish you a happy new year, in the next breath I’ll direct your hope – if you’ll allow – beyond the flip calendar full of empty promises and misapplied Scripture, to the bigger (and deeper) picture about which God truly cares.
Each Sunday I pace back and forth before a few hundred people attempting to understand and unpack in coherence the difficult claims of Scripture. For many, if not most of them, I think they believe it comes easy for me. In reality, each week – and at times – each hour, I have to look at a burning world, a wrecked society, abandoned children, unspeakable tragedy and choose in the face of the fire to believe. In reality…faith – the clinging to hope and choosing to trust – comes harder for me than for most I am called to shepherd. For some that may sound alarms, and if they are looking for a pastor who will tug on a mask and pump them with fluff and send them into a world that in the spiritual realm eerily resembles The Walking Dead then I wish them well. My job isn’t to tell anyone that 2018 will be easy, that money will fall from the skies if you live like a worship warrior, or that if you “let go and let God” He’ll give you the best. Even the intellectual non-believing community agrees that is garbage; yet some Christians ferociously cling to this pollution that tickles their ears while hollowing out their souls.
Job got it right when he – far more wrecked than I – declared that man is born to trouble as surely as sparks fly upward. Lazarus was faithful and begged for crumbs. Jesus’ cousin chowed on bugs and wailed truth from a wilderness only to land in prison with his head severed for the amusement of a teen. Even Jesus – the best by a long shot – was emotionally, physically, psychologically, and spiritually abused by those He came to rescue from the ruin. Simply (and Biblically stated) with every year that passes the chances of trouble, pain, heartbreak and loss rise.
A couple weeks ago, in an installment of our Advent series, I laid out, from the stage, some of the challenges that have assaulted my life and the lives of those within BLDG 28 in 2017. Upon stating the brokenness and remarking that 2018 would likely be no better, I then sarcastically quipped, “So…merry Christmas.” A few chuckled at my snarky assertion; but as this year has rolled on I realize increasingly more that the declaration I made in jest is in actuality what my soul and yours needs as we enter 2018: to be merry.
To be absolutely clear, I am not speaking of mind-numbing, reality-denying glee. Rather I am referencing the term in the way it was originally intended. You see, in the mid-centuries the term merry carried with it the ideas of strength, power, or might. This makes the meaning of Robin Hood’s “merry” men more serious and the lyrics of the carol “God Rest (make) Ye Merry Gentlemen” more substantive. To resound “Merry Christmas” was far more than a bypassing wish; it was a bold declaration that the Mighty One has come.
And He didn’t come to answer all our most earnest temporal petitions (as truly difficult as that is for me to swallow). He came to suffer and be murdered under the direction of God (why it had to be this way is for a much longer, much deeper, perhaps much darker conversation) to in finality crush evil and restore souls. I get it – it’s a bit less fun that smiling out our typical “Merry Christmas” and glibly believing that all will be well in 2018; but we don’t need the trite and light to amuse us this new year. Instead, we need the truth to empower and move us.
As much as we may want to pray for health, for a major hurricane to dramatically jog north leaving not a trace of devastation, or for our baby’s heart rate to recover, there is no Biblical or historical guarantee that God will answer any of these heart-wrenching entreaties. Rather, as we read Scripture and parse through history (including our own) it becomes brazenly evident that God is utterly concerned with saving and strengthening souls to bring increased fame to Himself. So we pray, hope, and strive to that end – to the end that truly, after this year is gone and we look back on 2018 with regrets, fondness, or pain, will really matter. The pain will most likely arrive at some point between now and next Christmas. Will we have the soul strength to face it?
As the new year dawns, the hope for this busted up soul is simple: no significant emotional duress, zero surgeries, and an over-abundance of personal stability, peace, and happiness throughout ’18 (and I would assume – unless you’re a masochist – that you are hoping for much the same). But my foremost prayer – or at least the one I am shooting to be foremost – is not for any of these temporal “blessings” (cause there’s absolutely no guarantee that God will gift us these). Rather, it is that in the face of triumph or tragedy, happiness or harm we will be strengthened in our souls and steadfast in our faith. This is what we need and is the prayer God is most concerned with answering.