I don’t particularly feel like writing this article.
From where I’m sitting, I can see a swath of landscape covered in brown. Dead grass, leafless trees, and old concrete collide in depressing testimony to the long, dark December nights currently bereft of snow. The past few months have dealt me a heavy hand of burdens. I’ve huddled in more medical waiting rooms than I think I ever have, waiting for news either about my own health or about the health of those I love the most. Three sudden deaths in my family have left me struggling to find any spot of joy this Advent season. And let’s not even get started on the global and local issues 2020 spewed and the toll both have exacted on my mental health.
The last thing I want to do is write about the comfort we can derive from “Everlasting Father.”
Everlasting? The only thing that seems everlasting right now is the isolation, the grief, and the darkness. And quite frankly, I’m angry at my Father, who allowed the death of my loved ones. I want to sit in the corner of my room and scratch my heart with potsherds of grief because from my vantage point, there isn’t any light at the end, and I’m not even sure if I’m in a tunnel or a bottomless pit.
Mortal humans have trouble grasping the concept of anything everlasting. This difficulty prompted some philosophers to proclaim finitum non est capax infiniti—the finite cannot contain the infinite. This axiom has a number of implications, but perhaps the greatest is the belief that God could never become Man. Since God is (by definition) infinite, and humans are very observably not, God could never squeeze himself into human flesh. It’s absurd, the argument goes, like trying to fit all the waters on earth into an eyedropper. There’s simply no way we can do that.
But even if we could comprehend what it means to be everlasting—or, at the very least, a stalwart constant in our lifetime—chances are that it would be a disappointing discovery. Take the human body. While most of our body’s cells replace themselves anywhere from every few days to every few years, some cells remain constant throughout our lifetime. Out of this handful of constants, one of the most notable remnants is scar tissue, which often is formed in a surprisingly (and irritatingly) resilient way. Many physical scars stay with you for the rest of your life.
Emotional scars aren’t all that different. PTSD, trauma, and stress can and do alter your body’s DNA, creating physical ailments and perpetuating suffering. The well-meaning advice “time heals all wounds” is offensively false when we confront the overwhelming evidence that the constants in our lives are death, taxes, and suffering. Our respites from grief are often the result of a failing memory instead of a healing psyche.
By our own definitions, anything that is everlasting is either impossible or unbearable.
Thank God that the Holy Spirit did not allow us to flounder in our own definition but gave us a brilliantly singular denotation in his Holy Word.
The term “Everlasting Father” occurs only once in Scripture, in the well-known Isaiah 9:6: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
The root word for “Everlasting” occurs dozens of times in Scripture, but one of the most striking is in Job 19:24. Right before the well-known verse twenty-five, the Holy Spirit inspires Job to write: “Oh that my words were written! Oh that they were inscribed in a book! Oh that with an iron pen and lead they were engraved in the rock forever (emphasis mine)!”
The message of Christmas is not that Jesus makes our earthly life happy, or that Jesus helps us get our to-do list accomplished, but that Jesus is Himself our Everlasting Life.
In the midst of very real and very painful torment, Job identifies the One Thing that is truly eternal. Though he loses his loved ones, his health, and his home, in the midst of his torment, he looks not within his diseased heart but ahead to the Redeemer. Isaiah’s pen echoes the thought and fleshes it out—literally.
The only way we know what it means to be Everlasting is revealed in the Person of Christ. The only way we know the Father, the Creator, is through His Son, Jesus. The only answer to “the finite cannot contain the infinite” is found in the historical fact of the virgin birth and, later, the brutal crucifixion and physical resurrection from the dead of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Christmas is not a cute bedtime story meant to give us fuzzy feelings but a graphic enfleshing of the Infinite Son into Man. As we kneel at the manger, we are bathed in the shadow of the cross as the full wrath of God annihilates his Son, punishing the perfect Christ for all of our anger, guilt, and sin. And as we watch Mary swaddle her infant Son, we look ahead to the perfectly folded burial garments our Lord left in the grave: evidence that no chain of hell could prevent your eternal salvation.
In this world, you will have tribulation. This Advent, you will have sorrow. The message of Christmas is not that Jesus makes our earthly life happy, or that Jesus helps us get our to-do list accomplished, but that Jesus is Himself our Everlasting Life. Christ Jesus did not come to show you the way out of the darkness, to encourage you to try one more meditation app, or to indulgently give you one more guilty pleasure to assuage the pain of this world. Christ Jesus came to deal with the root problem: sin and its wages, death.
Though his flesh is ripped from his skeleton, Job proclaims the One whose bones remained intact even during a brutal death. “And take they our life,” Martin Luther writes in “A Mighty Fortress is Our God,” “goods, fame, child, and wife, though these all be gone, they yet have nothing won: the kingdom ours remaineth.” The devil, the world, and our sinful nature will not have the final say. The Word Incarnate is our rock forever.
Praise God that in a year of so many unwanted things, the Father wanted us from eternity, the Son entered into our finite reality, and the Spirit will sustain us until life everlasting. Amen.