Tribulation, trouble, calamity, conflict, cancer, death — these are normal in the Christian life. But Christ has come. Christ has broken into the tribulation. He’s broken into cancer. He’s broken into the marital conflict and problem. He’s broken into Iraq. He’s broken into American Social Security upheaval. He’s broken into public education stresses. He’s broken into my emotional conflicts.
Christ, by his incarnation, has taken on flesh like ours and been tempted in every way like we are, and he died to kill it all. He put his foot on the neck of Satan and death and hell and sin. Once it was killed, he rose triumphant from the dead and became my righteousness, my hope. Now he has made himself the glory of paradise so that he’s the center of everything, and I get the highest pleasures in heaven by seeing him. So, I rejoice in this unutterable and exalted glory, as 1 Peter 1:8–9 says,
Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
So, we don’t see him now, but one day we’ll see him. And our joy is flowing back to us out of the future hope of seeing Jesus, and with this joy, we endure with Jesus all the sacrifices of love.
“Heaven will come soon enough. We’re here to serve.”
One closing warning. This is a “don’t take this sermon to mean that” paragraph. Do not infer from the fact that since tribulation is normal and joy should be in hope, flowing from the future, that you should, therefore, disappear out of ordinary public life and just cultivate you and God being happy in your trouble, while the world goes to hell, because it’s all about the future anyway — not the present.
We’re not going to go there as a church. That is not what the Bible teaches. Rather, it goes like this: Since your future is absolutely secure, and since your future is absolutely glorious, you are free not to grasp and crave and scratch after power and money and pleasure on earth; you are liberated to love as nobody else loves. You’re liberated to be engaged in politics, liberated to be engaged at work, liberated to be engaged in the neighborhood, caring about what this world looks like, feels like, experiences, because whatever happens to you, you’re home free.
The future being wrapped up in a hope, being set out there and absolutely certain, makes you an absolutely free person who doesn’t need to mount up stuff, as though this were heaven. “I have to have a heavenly house. I have to have a heavenly neighborhood. I have to have a heavenly car, heavenly cabin, heavenly kids.” You don’t.
Heaven will come soon enough. We’re here to serve. “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all” (Mark 9:35). The liberty that comes with Christmas hope is not a liberty of escape; it’s a liberty of engagement.
Give yourself away to this world, and if it costs you, I promise you in the name of Jesus Christ it will be worth it. Every cost will be worth it. Let a Christmas people hit this nation in all lowliness, in all humility, serving, loving, sacrificing, dying, and for the nations.
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