There is an interesting irony to the Christmas season. The irony is that while so many people experience great joy during Christmas, many others, perhaps an equal number, experience depression. This is true for many reasons, not the least of which is that for many people, this season is merely a time of unfulfilled expectations.
Those expectations may stem from something as simple as not receiving the gift someone wanted, or maybe someone did not experience the true warmth of a family gathering due to strained relationships. Or perhaps, worst of all, is the realization that our lives don’t seem to work out like all those Hallmark Channel movies (just kidding, sort of). Truthfully, many people just don’t have their expectations fulfilled during Christmas, even if they are not entirely sure what those expectations are.
The reaction of many people is to try and reach back to those moments in their childhood when their expectations, simple as they may have been, were in fact fulfilled. We can see this in the establishment and renewal of our great family traditions, in the playing of the classic Christmas music we loved to listen to when we were younger, and, of course, in watching all the old movies.
But the truth is that our experience of fulfillment must mature with our years. We must come to understand that the real meaning of Christmas is not about an experience, but about an epiphany. Epiphany is from the Greek epiphaneia, meaning manifestation or appearance. It is derived from a verb meaning “to appear.” Christ, the savior of the world, appears- incarnate, God in human form, and His Epiphany is a message to every one of us:
“And the angel said to them, ‘Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people…’” (Luke 2:10)
This message relates to a similar irony that exists as we prepare to enter the new year. It is that again, while many people experience great anticipation and excitement about the prospects of a new year, many others approach this event with fear and trepidation. Some may wonder what changes the new year will bring, both in the world and in their own lives. They might believe their best years are behind them and that there is nothing particularly exciting to look forward to. Or, many people may simply be discouraged that the passing of another year will only lead to another year of unfulfilled expectations.
These thoughts, always coming from the enemy of hope, are nothing more than attempts to diminish the light and fire of the Holy Spirit who dwells in each us and wants to give us meaning for our lives in this new year. We must allow that fire to continue to rage within us and keep the spirit of purpose alive and burning. The truth is that Jesus has a great and eternal purpose in mind for each of us in this new year:
“For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11)
There is no footnote in the bible that states this verse was written only for young people, or that it was intended only for those with specific skills and abilities, or even for those who have already accomplished things in life. It was not even written specifically for those people who stand in Times Square waiting for a silly ball to drop. This promise is for everyone, each and every one of us individually. You can bet that if we are still here in this life, the Lord has something He would like us to do for Him in this new year. We are important to the work He is doing every single day—His work to bring about the fulfillment of the promise of His Epiphany.
The title of this reflection is a famous poem by Dylan Thomas, Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night. It was actually written in tribute to his dying Father. The theme that Thomas expressed here was that life must be lived, even to the very last breath. Each stanza includes either the verse “Do not go Gentle into that Good Night,” or the author’s impassioned plea to his Father, “Rage, Rage Against the Dying of the Light.” There is an important message here for all of us.
As the shadows of this past year turn slowly towards the arrival of its last night, we might all pray that each of us find great meaning in the expectation and work the Lord has planned for us in this New Year. May we each find the courage to rage against the dying of the light of the Holy Spirit who dwells within us. Let us stoke the flame of this fire that burns within us and enter into this new year with renewed hope, confidence and faith that Our Lord has something important for us to do; for indeed He does.
We serve a great King, a King who will one day reward us for our service to His Kingdom. There is nothing more important for us to do in this new year than to find out what He is asking of us, individually, and then to labor to fulfill our mission. It does not matter our age, our skills and abilities, our financial means, our health or our strength, or even our mental state of mind. All we need to do is have the will and the desire to serve Him and then Jesus will take care of the rest.
Certainly we can begin this week by praying fervently that we might all find great peace and courage to run the race that is before us and to labor in our Lord’s Service.
“…holding fast the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.” (Philippians 2:16)
Copyright © 2019, Mark Danis
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