My husband and I bought burial plots this week. I know, I know, it doesn’t sound very Christmassy. It’s not the kind of shopping most people are busy with this time of year.
Perhaps it seems a bit grim to be thinking about and even preparing for death during the Christmas season. But it seems to me that Christmas is exactly the right time to think about death. Tim Keller has said that we have to “rub hope into the reality of death.” And is there any time we sing more about hope than at Christmas?
We sing that this world was “in sin and error pining, till he appeared,” and we’re caught up in the wonder that Life itself, in the person of Jesus, entered into this world of sin and death. His coming brought with it the “thrill of hope” that causes this weary world to rejoice. But what is the cause for this joy? What is the essence of this hope? Our hope is that “yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.”
Our songs at Christmas serve to remind us that this season isn’t merely about looking back at that holy night when Christ was born. Rather, our celebration of his first coming is meant to nurture in us a greater longing for his second coming. In fact, we miss the point of that holy night if it does not awaken in us anticipation for the glorious eternal day to come.
Song of Longing
One of my favorite Christmas carols has always been “Joy to the World!” Since we sing it at Christmas, I always thought of it as a song about the birth of Jesus. But if we think through the words more carefully, we realize that this song can’t be simply about the first coming of Christ.
We sing, “Let earth receive her King!” and we know that when Jesus came the first time, the earth did not receive her King. Instead, the earth crucified her King. The first time Jesus came, the nations did not prove the glories of his righteousness. Instead, human history has proved, over and over, the extent of man’s rebellion against his righteousness.
When we look at the world around us, as well as into the painful parts of our own lives, we know that his blessing does not yet flow far as the curse is found. Instead, we see the impact of the curse in every part of our lives. Sin and sorrow still grow, and all the thorny effects of the curse remain the reality we live in day-to-day and year-by-year.
From Blessing to Curse
Of course, this is not the way things have always been. We read in Genesis 2:7 that “the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.” God blessed everything he had made so that his blessing defined the atmosphere of Eden.
But then Adam and Eve sinned. God cursed the ground and told Adam how this curse would impact him. “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19). Gone was the chance to eat of the tree of life and never die. Adam would one day be buried in the ground, and his body would turn back into its dust.
Ever since Eden, human life has ended in death. Yes, Jesus really died. But death was not the end for him. Likewise, all who are joined to him by faith can face death, knowing that it will not be the end for us either. Paul writes, “As in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. . . . Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven” (1 Corinthians 15:22, 49).
This certain hope gives us a reason to sing for joy at Christmas. When Christ comes again, earth will receive her King. Every knee will bow. The nations will prove the glories of his righteousness as people from every tribe, tongue, and nation dwell secure under the righteous rule of King Jesus. All oppression will have ceased. His blessing will flow far as the curse is found.
Curse Finally Gone for Good
My husband and I know that the day is going to come when our bodies will be planted, like seeds, in the darkness of the earth. It will seem to some as though our lives have come to an end. But we know better. We know that yonder breaks a new and glorious morn. The darkness of our graves will one day be pierced by the radiant light of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. The silence of our graves will be disrupted by his thunderous voice. He will call the dust of our dead bodies out of those burial plots and transform them to be like his own glorious body (Philippians 3:21).
Those two little plots of ground will not prove to be our final resting place. The blessing of his resurrection life is going to penetrate the earth in which we are buried, and we will be raised to life. We are going to experience all that God promised when Isaiah prophesied, “Your dead shall live; their bodies shall rise. You who dwell in the dust, awake and sing for joy! For your dew is a dew of light, and the earth will give birth to the dead” (Isaiah 26:19). This hope enables us to sing songs of joy in the night as we wait for that glorious morn.