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The Cure for a Hopeless Christmas

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The Christmas season is marked by hope. Well, at least it is supposed to be. But instead of decorating their homes a la Clark Griswold, enjoying Christmas parties and watching cheesy Christmas movies, I’ve noticed among many believers a pervasive pessimism regarding the present and the future.

Yes, we live in difficult times culturally and politically. However, our celebration of the incarnation (Jesus’ first coming) ought to drive us toward hopeful anticipation of the consummation (Jesus’ second coming). In short, our eschatology ought to bring hope, not despair.

So, why are we entering the Christmas season feeling so hopeless? Here are two observations:

  1. The news cycle is always pessimistic.
    Controversy and scandal drive the news of our day. If it’s not shocking or terrifying, we tend not to pay attention. Therefore, the news media knows it must continue to publish provocative and even fear-inducing content in order to drive subscriptions and consumption. Our theology is far more influenced by our cultural context than we realize. It is cliché but nevertheless true: Theology is not formed in a vacuum. This cloud of despair over our culture drives us toward hopelessness in our theology.
  1. We have neglected the simple eschatological hope that Jesus is coming soon and Jesus wins.
    We tend to approach eschatology (the study of the end times) as either an impulse towards conspiracy theory-esque speculation or as a subject that should be ignored to avoid debates.

So, what is the answer to a hopeless Christmas? Should we turn off the news? Maybe! The news cycle will always be a drag on one’s soul. Still, while ignorance may be bliss, it is still ignorance. I would argue that what would be most beneficial to us is to interpret the news cycle in light of what we know to be true: No matter how difficult the days become, Jesus is coming soon and Jesus wins.

No matter how difficult the days become, Jesus is coming soon and Jesus wins.

Finding Hope with Creedal Eschatology

Practically, how do we interpret the news in light of Jesus’ second? Should we dive into eschatological controversies concerning amillennial, postmillennial and premillennial thought? While you can gain much from studying those subjects, the answer to our angst this Christmas season is much simpler. In order to have hope for the future we ought to look back. Not just look back but to reclaim what I would call “creedal eschatology.”

The earliest Christians found themselves to be the target of a hostile, nearly global empire. The first believers were the subject of vicious accusations from a world that did not understand them. They were wrongly accused of incest, cannibalism and child sacrifice, just to name a few. Yet, they held strongly to an undeniable hope. This hope was not because that had the details eschatological anticipation figured out. If we look to the early church, there is no definitive “earliest” eschatological position.[1] Instead, there were a variety of eschatological positions among the first Christian thinkers.[2] Nevertheless, the first believers were united in the hope-inducing conviction that Jesus was coming back soon and that Jesus would win.

This Christmas season, what I am proposing as the cure to our theological depression is a recovery of the eschatology of the early creeds which advocated the simple, hopeful and unifying belief that Jesus wins.

For instance, the Apostles’ Creed states:

He (Jesus) ascended to heaven and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty. From there he will come to judge the living and the dead.

Similarly, the Nicene Creed advocates:

He (Jesus) ascended to heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again with glory to judge the living and the dead. His kingdom will never end…We look forward to the resurrection of the dead, and to life in the world to come. Amen.

This Christmas season, look back upon the manger of Bethlehem with joyful anticipation of the rider of Revelation 19:11-16. Resist the urge to despair at the state of affairs in our nation and our world by joining in with the early church by simply and confidently confessing: Jesus is coming soon and Jesus wins. Confidence in the final and ultimate victory of Jesus ought to bring hope to even the most pessimistic of theologians and the Grinchiest of Grinches.

[1] I’ve read very thorough arguments to the contrary; I’m simply unconvinced.

[2] See Dialogue with Trypho by Justin Martyr.

Image credit: Paola Chaaya / Unsplash

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Dayton Hartman

Dayton Hartman is lead pastor at Redeemer Church in Rocky Mount, North Carolina. He has a PhD in church and dogma history from North-West University (South Africa), and serves as an adjunct professor at both Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and Columbia International University. He is the author of Church History for Modern Ministry: Why Our Past Matters for Everything We Do. Learn more at daytonhartman.com.

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