Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be His people, and God Himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
And He who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also He said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” And He said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be My son.
- Revelation 21:1-7
Recently, while listening to a discussion on the Tower of Babel, one of the commentors referenced something J.R.R. Tolkien had written in a letter to one of his sons. Admitting the reference was a paraphrase, not an exact quote, he shared Tolkien’s general idea, “There is a place called heaven, where all the stories that are unfinished will continue, where all the songs that are yet to be sung will be sung.” The image, the idea, touched me profoundly, deep within where every ending, every unsung song and unfulfilled dream, where every lost opportunity resides mourned and left behind.
We all host wounds, failures, and plain, old, painful endings. Certainly, we all hope we live life fully, so when the day of our death comes, we can say we have no regrets. But the stories left unfinished… I think of family members and friends, so many people I have loved who are gone now. The stories of our affection and friendship, the love that lives in memories.
Moreover, throughout our lives, in every decision we make, there is a cost for the lost opportunity. We don’t lose a single, discrete outcome when we choose one opportunity rather than another. We lose the entire pathway stepping from the choice untaken. Such is the nature of mortality and finitude. The reality is that no life is lived without regrets because we have no means of knowing what we forfeited in the choices we made.
What if you went to a different college, for example? Or married a different person? Or even, what if you married the same person, only earlier and had more children? Maybe later and had fewer children? What if you’d taken the other job offer instead of the one you accepted? “What ifs” are opportunity costs, the measure of our regrets.
Some of my favorite reading is C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia. I know they’re supposed to be children’s books, but each one in the series wonderfully presents the Gospel in fresh ways. One of the scenes that always speaks to me occurs in A Horse and His Boy. The boy of the book title finally meets Aslan, the great Lion who is the Christ figure in the series, and he asks Aslan why he had been allowed to suffer so, why such awful things had happened to him. Aslan responds to the boy by simple saying that He cannot tell the boy what might have been. He can only tell him what can be.
The Incarnation of the Son of God marks the beginning of all the untold stories and unsung songs. All the “what might be” possibilities open before us. Nothing in life is futile anymore. The meaning of every decision we make, good or for bad, and the outcome of every heartache, disappointment, and failure remain to be determined, for the Lord already has started to make all things new. When the Word became flesh, all of our “what might have beens” give way to the immeasurable promise of what is yet to be. Indeed, when God entered the world as the Baby born to Mary, redemption and restoration began. “What is yet to be” became “what is now begun.”
Sometimes, when I look at news and social media, I cannot help but be discouraged. The pursuit of power and domination in our world is so obvious. Leaders of nations posture and preen with not the slightest effort to hide their greed and self-assured superiority. Social media is worse, if that’s even possible. Average individuals with unremarkable lives defend their causes and favored politicians with great passion and (presumed) impregnable reasoning. People say so much but know so little. We’ve taught an entire generation, maybe two, to discus and debate in a 280 characters or less. But that works for a people trained for non-stop, mindless entertainment from a source that we carry in our hands. The investment of so many human beings is counted in sex and politics, the religion of non-belief.
The world into which the Son of God arrived as a Baby was no different than our own. There wasn’t some pristine moment of purity during which the world prepared to receive God in flesh. People were then as they are now, and we can take is great encouragement in that. The Gospel that changed the world then is the same Gospel that can change our world now. Our Savior can still reach into wasted, frivolous hearts and minds and release people from what was to show them what is yet to be. Good heavens, if He can do this for you and me, He can do the same in the lives of everyone we know.
I return to where I began. The exact quote from J.R.R. Tolkien is this, “There is a place called 'heaven' where the good here unfinished is completed; and where the stories unwritten, and the hopes unfulfilled, are continued. We may laugh together yet.” The freedom to laugh after counting our regrets comes from knowing we haven’t yet seen the end. We don’t know the stories still unwritten or the songs still unsung. When we look around and see a dark and misguided world, we can be assured that for these as well, the story is still unfolding. We haven’t seen the end yet.
The Incarnation of the Son in the Baby Jesus is the beginning. From the Baby’s first breath until the trumpets announce His return, we live with hope arising from unmerited grace and the boundless love of God that promises the best is yet to come. The story isn’t finished, but one day time will cease, and we’ll have eternity to see our God turn our regrets into triumphs and our tears into joy. Never will we want to ask what might have been. Rather, we will be in awe as what can be becomes what is.
Celebrate the Baby, for His birth marks the beginning. But keep one eye on the end because it will be as unexpected, as unpredictable, and as unbelievable as the birth was. God is doing a work, and we’re riding along to an end that marks our final beginning. Enjoy it! And bring as many family members and friends along with you as you go.
Rejoice, for a Savior has been born, and He’s turning despair to hope, darkness to light, apathy to love, and death to life. He’s telling every story with endings only He can bring to pass. He’s singing songs with melodies He alone can create. And we will laugh together again with unending joy.
Merry Christmas to you and yours!
In Christ –
Rev. Elizabeth Moreau
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