“Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will, to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”
Ulysses, Alfred Lord Tennyson
I ran a marathon last Saturday. I hesitate saying I did because I did so poorly. It didn’t go like I had planned. In fact, by mile 10 I had all but run out of gas, and as I watched the half-marathoners split off from my course, I yearned to follow. But I had much farther to run.
I am a young man. I turned thirty less than a month ago, and, if the Lord wills, there is much life left ahead of me. I know only a little about this race and the sorrows it can bring. I understand so little of it now and so little will I understand before I am old. I have had change thrust upon me and there are changes still to come.
But, I have always had my heroes.
As a boy I had many heroes: the boys basketball team from my hometown’s high school that went to state, the men I read about in Stephen E. Ambrose’s Band of Brothers, my own big brother. Through the years I have kept heroes, though, compared to those of my childhood, they seem pretty prosaic today: old men and old women who have stayed faithful to God and who have stayed faithful to one another; old men and old women who, in their old age, have not grown gray in their zeal for God or become wearied in working for the Church.
These are my heroes.
And, from this young man, on behalf of young men and women in the Church, I want to urge the old: Press on. Do not stop or change courses so close to the end of your race; stay faithful to God, stay faithful to the men and the women at your sides, and finish your race. There are others still behind you, looking to you for the strength to keep going.
Today, I am around mile 10 of my race. There are many miles left for me to plod and I know that I know less of this course than many of those running around me. And, as I look up ahead to those so close to the finish line, I see many still running, some struggling even to walk, some stopping, and some dropping out. I speak for a young Church when I say to the old—risking sounding audacious and impetuous in my youth—“Finish.”
Lord, give me this grace, and give all this grace: to run with endurance, to run well, and to finish. And when I grow old, may others look ahead to me, and watch as I lift my arms in celebration, having made it to the home stretch.
“I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”
Advent is the season we celebrate light, the coming of God’s light to us in the person of Jesus. “I am the light of the world,” he said. “Whoever follows me will have the light of life” (John 8:12). The birth of Jesus was the first advent; his second coming will be the next. We live now between these two comings of Christ and are called to be “the light of the world” in the meantime (Matt. 5:14). “Now you are light in the Lord” (Eph. 5:8).
If our churches today talk about “light to the nations” we very often talk about overseas missions. From the perspective of the pews in which we sit, “the nations” are on the other side of the globe. Clearly, the impulse toward foreign missions is correct: the church needs to be in the business of bringing Christ’s light to those still in darkness, the world over.
But, from the pew from which Isaiah, John, or Paul wrote the Bible, “the nations” is us. From a Palestinian perspective, Beebe, Arkansas 2018 is “the nations” and these writers would have rejoiced to know that the light of Christ had traveled so far. Thus, light to the nations doesn’t only mean from here to there, from the U.S. to Timbuktu, but also from there to here, from the Jews to the Gentiles, from Jerusalem to our living rooms.
I am not trying to say that the church has arrived in some complete sense and that we can bring all of our missionaries home—far from it! The church must always go. But her going must be to those far and near, to those both there and here. God’s light must shine wherever there is darkness, and, looking up from where I write this note, I see that there are shadows in our neighborhoods, schools, and homes that Christ’s light has still yet to touch.
I have heard it said that Christians are the only Bible many people in the world will ever read. I’d like to add that Christ’s coming in us may be the only advent many people in the world will ever know. Christ has come, yes, but his light still has some distance to go. There is darkness in our world, in our communities, right in front of our faces; we have friends, neighbors, and co-workers who do not know Christ, and we are called to be his light. It is not enough for God’s light to have come there, to Bethlehem so many years ago; God’s light must also come here, wherever there is darkness. May Christ come, and may his light come through you and through me.
December is the month of gift-giving. Many of us will wear ourselves out trying to think of perfect gifts for friends and family. Some of us will nearly empty our checking accounts in order to purchase things for others. A few of us may even strike out with some of the things we give that we thought were good ideas only to realize too late they were not.
1 Corinthians 13 is the Bible’s great chapter on love, and the first three verses of that chapter always knock the wind out of me. The claims in these verses are some of the boldest in all of scripture. There, Paul writes, “If I give away all I have . . . but have not love, I gain nothing.”
I do not think that Paul had the month of December in mind when he wrote these words, but I do find this verse to be appropriate reading for this time of the year—a time of year when we give a lot of things. Perhaps, as we begin this month of gift-giving, this verse merits our reflection.
The perfect, most expensive, or ingenious gifts you give to others this season won’t mean much without love. We know this, I know, but it is worth remembering. Please don’t take this bulletin article as warrant to skip the gifts this year (I’ll have all the kids in the church mad at me if you do), but we must remember that our children, our spouses, our friends, and our families do not need more stuff: they need love. They need our attention, our energy, our smile, our time, and our words.
I hope you are able to give gifts this season and to know the joy of giving a good gift. I hope your gifts are thoughtful and meaningful and meet the needs of the ones to whom you give, and that you don’t strike out. But more than all this, I hope that whatever you give, you give love.