O come, thou Dayspring, come and cheer
Our spirits by thine advent here;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel!

Even when we know that Christ has died and is risen, that he has conquered sin and death, that he is the ruler of all on earth and in heaven, it can be terribly hard to live as though we believed it. Despair can eat away at us—despair, the conviction that God cannot help us, cannot save us, cannot bring us out of all the sin and death that surrounds us. It is important to realize that we are sinful beings, but if we see only the enormity of our faults without recognizing that God will purify us—is purifying us even now—we can be dragged into a despair that is as much a denial of God as is overweening pride. Even though death has been defeated, we can live in the shadow of death. We can turn away from the glories that we once saw, back into life as unredeemed, unsanctified, unloved people. The temptation to do this can be battled against if we pray for and encourage each other, and continually remind each other that Christ is alive and reigns; but it will remain a temptation as long as Christ’s kingdom has not come to full fruition. God’s Messiah has already come, and has set things to rights, but at the same time we are still waiting for him. When he comes, it will be like daybreak, and we will be able to see through all the despairing lies that now blind us.

O come, Desire of nations, bindvalley of the shadow
In one the hearts of all mankind;
Bid thou our sad divisions cease,
And be thyself our King of Peace.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel!

The world is discouraging. The personal problems we struggle with are bad enough—the personal selfishness and spite that we all face—but then we look at the world, and divisions seem insurmountable. The twentieth century was the bloodiest century in recorded history, but not because people turned suddenly vicious toward the end of the Victorian age. I am quite sure that people two thousand or five thousand or ten thousand years ago would have killed just as many of their fellow men if they had had the technology to do so. There is something in the human psyche that wants to strike out at those around us; and this something takes advantage of that other part of the human psyche that wants everything simple and uncomplicated, black and white, that wants to be able to look at people and tell in a glance whether they are a Good Guy or a Bad Guy. We can recognize that we ourselves are a mix of cruel and loving impulses, but it seems intolerable to extend that recognition to those around us. And so we divide people into Good and Bad based on other differences, be they culture or race or language. Seeing the terrible things that happen when we take cultural traits as indicative of the state of souls, one temptation is to wish for the dissolution of all cultural differences into some final unity. However, unity will not come in the shape of homogeneity. In the end, people “from every nation, tribe, people and language” will stand before Christ and praise him (Revelation 7:9)—their uniqueness will not be compromised, but they will be united under the same Lord. We can look forward to Christ’s coming as a time when our divisions will cease, not because we will all be flattened out, but because we will celebrate our neighbor’s delight and desire for the one true God.

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