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Short Days Long on Reflection

By PPL Board member, Rev. Jonathan B. Leach, Pastor, Reformed Presbyterian Church in San Antonio

Perhaps you’ve noticed. Presbyterians differ on the issue of our religious observation–or not—of Christmas. Being spiritual heirs of the Reformation, conscientious Presbyterians aim to search the Scriptures for God’s authorization on all matters of faith and life. When considering the religious celebration of Advent and Christmas, we Presbyterians come down in rather divergent places ranging from the more colorful, ebullient tradition of Luther (think of the well-worn recitations of Luke 2:1-20) to the far leaner “regulative principle” tradition of Knox and others (think Leviticus 10:1-2).

A discussion on differences in ecclesiastical practice is important, but it’s not what shapes the content of this article. Rather, let’s agree as Presbyterians, if we can, on this: That the days grow both darker and shorter, the closer we approach the winter solstice. Perhaps we can further agree that this brief season extending from mid-December through earliest January affords many people a bit more free time to reflect on things that spent the previous eleven months simmering on the back burner of our minds. Really important things. They’ve simmered there simply because the pressing daily business of life and living has for those eleven months occupied the front. Reflective thought typically yields the right-of-way to the tyranny of the urgent.

But for many, the tempo suddenly changes in late December. The heart turns homeward. Life slows down. We find ourselves with time to think and reflect on matters that vastly transcend the annual changing of smoke detector batteries. These shorter, darker days afford us opportunity to think retrospectively over a year that’s been either wisely invested for the kingdom of God, or foolishly and irretrievably lost. Further, we’re reminded at this season of those who’ve joined our families over the course of the past twelve months—those precious little tots now lying comfortably in their cozy cradles—but also of those (of all ages) we’ve lost—whose loving memory burns brightly on, while their mortal bodies lie cold in their graves. We remember and reflect, as Moses himself did, on the surpassing value and brevity of life: So teach us to number our days, that we may present to Thee a heart of wisdom (Psalm 90:12).

Wisdom! That’s what we’re after! The cultural tsunami of Christmas commercialization still washes over and around us, of course. Who can stop it? But amid its mercantile roar may yet be heard the still, small voice of resistance. It’s the Gospel—the voice of Jesus Christ—declaring within our consciences the primacy of Giver over gifts, contentment over disappointment, relationships over “stuff.” It announces something most surprising and even refreshing in its novelty: the plain Biblical fact that all those people—young and old—who’ve annoyed and inconvenienced you all year long really do . . . matter. That our own lives, in some profoundly mysterious way, would be diminished without them.

But these short, gloomy days do us the added favor of shining the light of personal reflection forward, as many of us consider our life circumstances and make our own personal resolutions for good and godly change. Here too, God’s Word both encourages and directs us how to proceed: The mind of man plans his way, but the LORD directs his steps (Proverbs 16:9).

An old year of many irretrievably bad decisions may nevertheless be redeemed in the new, when—having thoughtfully reflected—we implement the hard lessons learned along the way. These few late December weeks offer us that needed space, both to reflect and to plan the way ahead. And with the Lord’s help, plan our way we must, lest we be driven as ships without compass, sails filled to rending before the brutal fury of Euroclydon:[1] the ever-present tyranny of the urgent.

Each of us must make his own personal assessments, and resolutions, for the coming new year. I can’t tell you what your resolutions ought to be, nor you mine. But during these few, brief, dark days at Christmastime—as we reflect on matters of more central importance—perhaps we do well to consider in the new year:

· Putting the interests of Christ and his glorious kingdom first;

· Putting the interests of others (those inconvenient, bothersome others!) ahead of our own;

· Prizing life over death, blessing over cursing, mercy over judgment.

At Christmastime and always may your tableside toasts reflect the deepest interest of our reigning King Jesus: “Lechaim!” “To life!

[1] Acts 27:14

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