I usually refer to posts like this as a “blast from the past,” but I think you’ll see why I don’t in this case. I first posted this in 2005.
One of the wonders of Christmas is that it’s one of those things we do at the same time each year. As children, we’re caught up in the wonder of the decorations and the presents. As we age, our attention turns to all of the holiday partying and getting together with family. These kinds of associations accumulate over the years; we want to relive every Christmas in the one we’re celebrating at the moment.
A real spoiler of all of this merriment is when tragedy strikes at Christmastime. As an employer, I always found myself doing layoffs (and an occasional termination) during December, and this made everyone feel rotten. But for me Christmastime took a definite turn downward when my mother passed away a few days before Christmas. We had her visitation just before the holiday and afterwards took her back to her native Arkansas for burial.
It was an eventful time in the “Land of Opportunity.” Its “favourite” son, Bill Clinton, was going out of office shortly, not to be replaced by his sidekick Al Gore, who had lost his own home state. Arkansas had been hit by a record ice storm, darkening the state and making travel difficult. All of these events served as a distraction for the moment. But every year when the decorations go up and the partying begins the painful memories come back.
My mother’s father had purchased a family plot. My mother was the last to be buried there. Her family’s course through the twentieth century had been a tumultuous one. Her only brother was killed in World War II when his plane experienced mechanical failure and exploded over Long Island Sound. Her mother never got over that; the rest of her life was a long downhill run in the shadow of that tragedy. In turn my mother left Arkansas to seek opportunity elsewhere, as many from the South did after the war. But she found that prosperity in Palm Beach didn’t bring peace or happiness, and so our family had tumult of its own.
My mother’s family were Christian people. As each one of them left this life, they carried the hope that, having trusted Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Saviour, they would inherit eternal life and ultimately have that eternal life together. With each departure came the promise that the separation was temporary and that, when the plot was filled up, they would all be together with God in heaven.
Today I find myself in the same situation my mother was in after she buried her father in that same cemetery. I am the last one of my immediate birth family left. Our course to eternal life wasn’t as straightforward as my mother’s family, but the end crowns the work, and the eternal result is what counts. Each day I am reminded that those I have left behind are reunited with each other, waiting for me, and that someday I too will be reunited with them in eternity. That is the appointment that I will keep someday, the appointment with eternity, God Himself and those who have already kept their own appointment.
And that’s the greatest paradox of the Christian life. One the one hand, once we have made Jesus Christ first in our life, our course towards heaven is set, and our agenda is to let God keep us in the voyage. On the other hand we are commanded to do things that will facilitate others making the voyage with us, and that involves work. With eternity as the objective, however, that kind of paradox is eminently manageable, although sometimes our churches and religious institutions don’t do a perfect job of managing their paradoxes.
“And, as it is ordained for men to die but once (death being followed by judgement)…” The loss of those who have gone before is a painful reminder that the rate of death is still one per person. But there is hope: “…so it is with the Christ. He was offered up once and for all, to ‘bear away the sins of many’; and the second time he will appear–but without any burden of sin–to those who are waiting for him, to bring Salvation.” (Heb 9:27-28 ) More than that, there are those who wait for us:
Seeing, therefore, that there is on every side of us such a throng of witnesses, let us also lay aside everything that hinders us, and the sin that clings about us, and run with patient endurance the race that lies before us, our eyes fixed upon Jesus, the Leader and perfect Example of our faith, who, for the joy that lay before him, endured the cross, heedless of its shame, and now ‘has taken his seat at the right hand’ of the throne of God. (Heb. 12:1,2)
This then is our hope. But I must go. I am delayed for my appointment.
All scripture quotations taken from the Positive Infinity New Testament.