“All I have to look forward to is death.”
This bleak assessment came from the lips of a middle-aged woman, quoted by her daughter who was frustrated with her mother’s negative outlook on life. The daughter’s concern was understandable. No-one wants to see their loved ones depressed and preoccupied with death.
Yet from one perspective, her mother was speaking the truth – a truth that we all prefer to avoid. No matter how we like to dress it up, avoid it, or talk around it, all of us will die – and none of us (or very few, anyway) like the idea.
Our dog Cookie, now in her fourteenth year, is getting close to the end of her life. She is slowing down, but so far as I can tell she is not preoccupied with worries about when and how she will die. She lives for the moment, and most of her moments are spent sleeping. Her thought life seems to consist mostly of dreams of chasing squirrels, cats or motorcycles. This is interspersed with twice-daily thoughts of kibble, begging at the table whenever there are guests, and brief excursions to sniff out the daily news as she explores the “markers” left by other canines on her leisurely strolls down the streets of our neighbourhood.
Young children also live for the moment, and their innocence is part of their appeal. But as we grow to adulthood, the sons of Adam and daughters of Eve start to become conscious of the oppressive reality of death. We long for a life free of worry and care, but try as we might to shut the awareness of death out of our minds, it always lurks in the background.
There’s a very simple reason why we find death oppressive. We fear and hate death because we were intended to live forever with God and the people we love. Death separates us from God and the people we love most, and reminds us of our weakness, our dependency and our nakedness before God. This is why we don’t want to die or even think about the prospect.
The good news of Christmas is that our life doesn’t have to end in death. Yes, we will die, but Jesus came into the world to pay the penalty of our sin so that those who trust Him could be forgiven, have peace with God, and be raised up to live with Him in His eternal kingdom. It really is that simple.
The catch is that while this gift is completely free, it’s not cheap. The only way to receive this amazing gift – by far the best Christmas present ever given – is to face your failures, turn away from your sins (beginning with your pride and independence), admit that it’s not all about you and your projects and plans, face the fact that you are not the center of the universe, stop trying to run your own show, and surrender control of your life to the Messiah who was born in a stable, who died for you, and who alone is worthy to rule.
When I was in my late teens and early twenties, I had dreams of taking my guitar on the coffeehouse circuit. One of my guitar-playing buddies got me a gig at a Chinese restaurant (no kidding !) where my assignment was to play and sing in the bar for three hours unamplified. Unless you’ve tried, you have no idea how hard this is. I found it no easy task to hold the attention of a drinking crowd with an unamplified acoustic guitar and no microphone.
My buddy, however, wanted to help me out, so he taught me a song that was a big hit at the bar. The song was called “In Heaven there is no beer”. The gist of it was that since beer was not allowed in heaven, we might as well enjoy it on earth.
At the time I simply found this song amusing, but I now see that it was actually making quite a significant statement about life. Whatever you think about beer-drinking, one of the key messages of this song is that for people who like to enjoy life, the prospect of going to heaven is actually not all that appealing. That’s because in heaven as we usually think of it, you don’t actually get to do anything. You just sit around on a cloud and play a harp all day.
Isn’t it a relief to know that this is not what God actually has in mind for us? The reason we don’t get excited about floating on a cloud forever is because God never made us for that. We want to live forever on the earth because that is actually what we were made for. His amazingly good plan for us is to restore the earth through the man He has sent to be our Saviour – Jesus, the Messiah, who came once to sacrifice His life so that we could be forgiven and have peace with God, and who is coming again in glory to rule openly as King.
Everyone is looking for hope, but not all the things we hope for are reliable. Sometimes – many times, in fact – we fix our hopes on things, events or people that end up disappointing us. Jesus is not like that. Jesus is faithful. No-one who reads the New Testament with an open mind and heart can doubt that he was the best, most faithful man who ever lived. He is the hope of all the earth, and His free gift of eternal life is available to all who are willing to humble themselves and surrender to Him. That includes you, my friend.
What do I really want for Christmas? The deepest desire of my heart is that my friends, family and workmates – all those in my life who are living independently of Jesus, or who are looking elsewhere for hope – might discover once and for all the best present of all, the only Christmas gift that really counts, the gift that makes everything else worthwhile. His name is Jesus, He truly is the reason for the season, He came to earth for you, and He is coming again to rule and to reign. Life and death are in His hands, and to those who trust Him, He gives hope that nothing can destroy.