In the days and weeks after Christmas, as life gets back to “normal” (whatever that is!), we can sometimes experience an emptiness or uncertainty. The wonder of our celebrations are met with, well, nothing. January feels anticlimactic. Christmas is but a memory, leaving little imprint in our lives.
And so we wonder, what next? We are prone to look ahead. In fact, the Christmas story itself pulls us ahead (e.g. the Magi’s visit, Joseph and Mary fleeing to Egypt to escape Herod’s violence). For Jesus, the journey to Jerusalem has begun. And much of the New Testament looks ahead to the 2nd Advent. As Christians we are journeying towards the New Jerusalem, awaiting a final fulfillment of Christ’s reign in the world. In this sense, “what next?” is entirely appropriate in the days following the nativity story.
We also look ahead in much of In life as well. Working at a college, I’m adapting back into the rhythm and routine of a new semester. A new year often involves reflection and possibly resolution for our lives - next steps personally, in relationships, or work. It’s safe to say that much of our lives are future-oriented (we never really “arrive”).
And while this constant future orientation can be a good thing, we do risk getting caught with so much focus on the future (planning this or dreaming that) that we neglect the present.
It’s interesting, then, to consider how the first Christians looked forward. Where our gaze can distract us from the present, in the New Testament, “What next?” was paralleled by another vitally important question: “What now?”
As Christians, the future determines the present. We don’t wait for the future in the present. Sorry Jon Mayer, but we don’t “keep on waiting.” No, the present is where we live in the reality of the future.
Much of the time, eschatology (the study of the end) is greatly misunderstood. Revelation, with all its profound symbols for the future of our world, is primarily about inspiring faithfulness in the present.
Earlier this, the church entered the season of epiphany, a time to recognize God’s manifestation in our world. And while the Biblical narrative leads through Jesus’ life toward the cross – the most profound “next” in the Biblical narrative – the reminder of epiphany is for now. God is with us. God is with us now!
As we leave Christmas behind and enter a new year, we don’t just ponder what next, but need to ask, what now? And then recognize it is not what we see or hear. It’s who we see and hear. God’s love continually present with us in Christ through the persistent work of the Holy Spirit. Our hope for the future as Christians is a hope realized in the present.
What now? Immanuel, God with us!
O come let us adore him…