You may have seen it in cartoons or sketch comedy, the hook that extends from off-stage to drag the performer away. Its origins date back to old Vaudeville shows, supposing that there might be an act that went too long, stubbornly so, and needing to be removed. So the shepherds hook would extend from stage-right or stage-left to remove said performer. Today's equivalent might be the speech ending theme music at celebrity awards shows. As we come to the end of 2015 you might feel a looming hook, waiting to draw you off to a proverbial stage left or right. I can think of two such hooks that operate in our lives on a regular basis.
First, you might feel the hook of future fear tugging at you. Future fears are always looming, drawing away our mental energy into planning, or our emotional energy into worrying. What might happen this Friday or the next Friday? How can you plan for it? Or maybe you know what will happen and are anxious about it. How bad will it be? For most of us it isn't entirely unfeasible to imagine a large part of our day taken up with thinking, planing, and worrying because we fear what may or may not happen in the future.
If our first hook extends from the stage-future then our second hook extends from stage-past in the form of guilt. The things that we've done or the things that were done to us tug at us from the past inviting us to relive the event over and over again in search of something that could've been done differently, like a social media feed with video of all our sins, a feed we find ourselves watching and scrolling through endlessly. The past, though thoroughly complete, is still a very difficult thing to move past and can be, for many, enslaving.
I wonder if that is how you feel going into this week, pulled in two different directions, fearing the future and enslaved to past guilt. The good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ, that Jesus whose birth we emphasize this time of year, is that he has come to set us free (John 8:36). The antidote to a fear of the future is strangely enough a different type of fear—the fear of God. The fear of the future thrives on uncertainty, danger, risk, and failure. Jesus encouraged his disciples to not worry about the future but to concentrate on the present because God was for them (Matt 6:25-34). Jesus warned his disciples to not fear what men could do to them but instead to fear God (Matt 10:28) knowing that for those whose faith was in Christ, eternal life was already a secured reality (John 3:16). So the fear of God is not servile fear but a filial fear, of a child wanting to please an adoring dad, knowing that this dad is the best dad that could be imagined (Luke 11:11-13).
Jesus has also removed the fear of the second hook, the hook of guilt. Jesus's own suffering, dying, and glorious resurrection put him in the place to provide sinners with forgiveness of sins and ongoing advocacy before the throne of the living God (1 John 2:1). Now there isn't any condemnation from God for those whose faith is in Christ (Rom 8:1). Christians can move on from failure and forgive those who have sinned against them precisely because Jesus has forgiven them.
Where does all of this leave us? If, through Christ, we can resist the hooks of fear-future and guilt-past then we can live in the moment. We can "be" where we are and enjoy those around us. Even though there is only the present, so few of us actually live in it. Yet the life of love that God calls us to (John 13:34), the love we hope that will be around Christmas trees and dinner tables is only available to us in the present. We have in Christ a tremendous gift, the invitation to live in the moment, savoring the gifts God has given us (James 1:17), serving with joy God and others (2 Cor 5:14-15).
My encouragement to you this Christmas is to revel in your identity as a Christian, beloved of Christ, child of God, dwelling place of the Holy Spirit. Don't worry about what is looming offstage. Live in the moment to the glory of God.