Series: The Spirit of Christmas
#4: The Spirit of Christmas Future
2 Peter 3:2-4a, 8-15a (NLT)
The clock in Ebenezer Scrooge’s bed chamber struck twelve. Scrooge had already been visited by two other “Spirits of Christmas,” Christmases Past and Present. Frightening as their appearances may have been, this final apparition looked to Scrooge like the Grim Reaper himself. The mission of this final Spirit was to reveal to Ebenezer visions of Christmases yet to come, culminating in a sobering visit to his own lonely and forgotten grave. Unless Scrooge changed, this would be his fate.
The visit of the first Spirit had softened his heart, the visit of the second pierced his heart. But it took the painful visit of this third Spirit to actually change his heart. This glimpse into his “future” was what prompted Scrooge to change his “present.” Staring his own death in the face, his life was transformed.
This Advent season, we have been reflecting on the Coming of Christ by taking our inspiration from Charles Dickens’, A Christmas Carol. Just as Scrooge was visited by the Spirits of Christmas, Past, Present, and Future, so we are also visited by three Spirits of Christmas. Two weeks ago, we considered the first coming of Christ as a baby in Bethlehem, and were reminded that we must accept the truth of his identity as the Son of God if we are to ever know the true Spirit of Christmas. Last week, we were reminded that the only way Christ’s first coming will have any meaning for us is when we invite Christ to be born in our hearts today – the Present Spirit of Christmas.
Like Scrooge, our hearts have been softened, then pierced. Now, like Scrooge, we turn our attention to the future of Christmas – a vision of what is to come – a prospect that may be gloomy and fearful to many of us. But if we allow our hearts to be changed, our future can be bright and glorious, instead. Our glimpse at the future Second Coming of Christ can become the catalyst that prompts us to change our present.
I don’t think it is surprising that, of the three aspects of Christ’s coming, it is this future aspect that is the one most avoided. Many people in our world can accept that Christ came in the past, and that he continues to come to us today. But lots of people either fail to consider, or refuse to accept, that Christ will come again in the future.
There are even many Christians who choose to downplay this Biblical teaching, uncomfortable with the image of Christ coming in judgment victory. They embrace the promise of a new heaven and a new earth. But they conveniently overlook the many passages in the Bible (found both the Old and New Testaments) that promise that first there must come the “Day of the Lord,” when Christ will come in glory and sit in judgment. Only then will this new heaven and new earth be possible.
The notion of Christ as a baby bringing peace on earth, and Christ as a Spirit bringing peace in our hearts is easy for people to accept. But this notion that Christ will one day come in victory and judgment to establish an eternal peace seems harder for people to swallow. And, since they don’t believe that we will be held accountable in the future, they don’t see any reason to change.
I don’t think Ebenezer Scrooge believed that there would ever come a day of reckoning, either. And even if there is to be, it was so far in the distant future, he saw no urgency to change. That’s why this third Spirit of Christmas had to visit Scrooge. And, it’s why the final stop on his ghostly tour was at his own tombstone. It was a wake-up-call; a vivid reminder that there was a time-limit for Scrooge to get right with God. And it’s a reminder that there is a time-limit for us, as well.
In our text for this morning, Peter warns us not to scoff at the prophecy of Christ’s return, nor to assume that the slowness of his coming means he will not come. The Day of the Lord will come in God’s own good time. There will be a day of reckoning.
So, what are we to do in the meantime? We are to live today as if Christ were coming tomorrow. Christ’s delay in returning does not mean that we can go on living life any way we want. Christ will come as suddenly and unexpectedly as a thief in the night, and so we had better be ready at all times. In that moment when Christ comes on the clouds of heaven, there will not be time to repent or to accept him as Savior. It will be too late.
You would think that warning would be enough to get people attention and cause them to make their relationship with God their number one priority. But for most people, that doesn’t seem to do it. Many people are like the skeptics Peter wrote about, convinced that, because Christ will come in the distant and murky future (if at all), there is no rush. Like Scrooge, we see no urgency to change.
But the truth is that there is a much more certain deadline. Even though there will be a Day when Christ will come in the future, for each and every person alive, that day for us is the day of our death.
What the Spirit of “Christmas Yet to Come” is telling Scrooge (and you and me) is that for each individual person, NOW is the day of salvation. There is a deadline for coming to faith in Christ – that deadline is our death. Once Scrooge got that message as he knelt beside his own grave, suddenly the urgency of the moment became real.
And his soul comes pouring out. Listen to Scrooge’s newfound faith as he pleads with the Spirit of Christmas Yet to Come, as the Spirit pointed down at Scrooges grave:
“Before I draw nearer to that stone to which you point,” said Scrooge, “answer me one question. Are these the shadows of things that Will be, or are they shadows of things that May be, only?… Man’s courses will foreshadow certain ends, to which, if persevered in, they must lead,” said Scrooge. “But if the courses be departed from, the ends will change. Say it is thus with what you show me!… Spirit, hear me. I am not the man I was.. Why show me this if I am past all hope?… Good Spirit…,assure me that I yet may change these shadows you have shown me by an altered life!” And then came the moment where Christ came to Ebenezer Scrooge: “I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach.” (Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Stave 4)
Scrooge finally had allowed God to change his heart. His humbugs had been changed to hallelujahs. And, at last, the stage is set for a glorious and joyful Christmas morning!
My friends, what about you? When you think about this Future Coming of Christ, what do you feel? Joy? Or dread?
If you have received Christ into your heart and are living for him, the coming of Christ in glory is something to long for, because it will be a Day when we will stand before the Judgment seat and receive forgiveness of our sin and the gift of living eternally in God’s presence. That is why, in the final verses of Revelation, all those who have received Christ can pray, “Come, Lord Jesus!”
But what if, when you think of that Day when Christ returns, you like Scrooge, are gripped by fear and apprehension? How you feel about Christ’s Second Coming may give you a clue as to your spiritual readiness to stand before him. For those of us who have the assurance of their salvation, we long for that day. But for those who do not have a relationship with Christ, the Day of his Coming should strike terror in their hearts. And with good reason.
We love to quote John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.” But we seldom even read the 36th verse of that chapter: “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.”
If you fear Christ’s return, it may mean that you, like Ebenezer Scrooge, have not given your heart completely over to Christ, and have not received the assurance of your salvation. You know instinctively that you are under God’s wrath, rather than covered by the blood of Jesus that washes away our sins. But if that describes you, you can take heart that there is still time to change your destiny. If you tend to avoid thinking about Christ’s return or are frightened by the prospect, I am pleading with you to seriously reexamine your heart, and give it to Christ this Christmas. For a day is coming at the close of your earthly life when it will be too late to decide. But if you are still alive, it’s not too late for you!
That, writes Peter, is the good news of Jesus’ delay in coming again. “The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise… No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent… Our Lord’s patience gives people time to be saved.”
Or as the Apostle Paul wrote in 2nd Corinthians 6:1-2, “Don’t receive God’s grace in vain. Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.”