Only seventeen days ago the world was singing of joy, peace, and hope. One of my favourite Christmas songs (up there with Little Drummer Boy) is O Holy Night (my favourite rendition by Josh Groban, of course). It describes the desperate state of the world; a world which was ‘in sin and error pining’. And then, when the God-baby is born, this desperate, weary world rejoices.
And so we continue to do, every year when we remember Christ’s coming.
But here we are, less than three weeks later, and the joy and hope of the Christmas season seems to have dissipated even more quickly than last year.
Over the short time that has been 2021, I have read and watched with increasing despair the events around the globe. An earthquake in Croatia which killed and injured civilians, and destroyed hospital facilities in a time of global pandemic. Muslim friends mourning and outraged at a terrorist attack on a Shia Hazara community, a minority people group who have been targeted by religious extremists for years. A trade war and rising tensions between my own country and the greatest power in the world. A shocking riot in the U.S. which only increases the social tensions the nation has been experiencing for months now. And of course, a deadly virus which keeps evolving and spreading across the world.
There seems to be nothing to suggest that the state of our world will be improving this year, as so many had hoped for after the last 12 months we endured.
Recently in my Bible readings, I came to Luke 21. Usually, I read through these kind of sections in the gospels. To me, at least, they are confusing, awkward, challenging, and leave too much room for people to preach poor theology or fear-mongering messages of the end times. More than anything, I think, I have felt that these passages just don’t seem to be relevant to me.
And yet, here I am, growing more and more weary of the world we live in and the people who run it. Surely there has never been a time in my life that these words from Jesus have been more relevant.
“Nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be great earthquakes, and in various places plagues and famines; and there will be terrors and great signs from heaven.
But before all these things they will lay their hands on you and will persecute you, delivering you to the synagogues and prisons, bringing you before kings and governors for My name’s sake.” (Luke 21:10-12)
Now, I’m not saying that these are the end days and that Jesus is coming next year. I actually believe that Jesus was primarily talking to his disciples of the time in these passages. Historically, this prediction came horribly true for them.
But I’m not saying that he’s not talking to us.
These signs of the “end times” began almost immediately after Jesus ascended into heaven and left his disciples with the Holy Spirit to spread the gospel. And, while persecution eventually subsided in the Western world (though continues in many countries even today), these signs never stopped.
We have all been living in the end times since Pentecost. So yes, in that sense, these are the end times.
The book of Hebrews shows us signs that the first century followers of Jesus were already growing weary of their rejoicing over Christ’s coming, and their expectation for His second coming. It’s most likely that the first Christians earnestly expected Jesus to come back in their lifetime. After years of waiting, years of persecution, and years of famine, war, and conflict, they were getting tired. Their faith was waning. I have to assume that they were becoming restless, hopeless, angry, and desperate… much like we are today.
So what is the cure for a weary world? A world which “groans and suffers the pains of childbirth”? The cure is hidden in that beautiful Christmas song, O Holy Night: “a weary world rejoices“.
The cure is rejoicing. Willingly rejoicing in Christ, remembering His promises and His work, and looking forward, always, to His coming again. Willingly is the key word here. It is a choice and an action to rejoice in Christ, and one that we must persist in, even when it is hard to do so.
This is what the author of Hebrews hammers home to his audience, again and again. Endurance. Perseverance. Keep your eyes on Jesus.
In fact, this is what Jesus Himself tells His disciples:
“By your endurance you will gain your lives.” (Luke 21:19).
Anger and outrage clouds our judgement, and likewise it will cloud our faith if we do not put it away from us. Ephesians tells us that anger gives the devil a foothold, or a stronghold, in our lives (Eph 4:26-27). Yes, we might be angry at the ungodliness of the world, but if it leads us to lash out at others or lose sight of Christ, it is giving the enemy opportunity in our lives.
Neither should we fall into the pits of despair. We mourn for people and for the world, yes, but always knowing that all things are being righted, and always with thanksgiving (rejoicing) in our hearts:
“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful.
Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.
Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.”
The world is still weary. It will be weary and groaning until it is redeemed when Christ returns. But it now has a reason to rejoice, because it will be redeemed. Christ will return. Our day will come, His glory will be revealed, and all that are in Him will be restored. For now we wait, we keep our hope and our eyes on Jesus, and we rejoice in what He has done, in what He is doing in us now, and in what He will do when He comes back.
“For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God.
For creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God.
For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption our body.
For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what they already see? But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it.”