“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light of revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory for your people Israel.” (Luke 2:29-32)
The message above was originally spoken by the righteous and elderly man Simeon in the temple in Jerusalem. His desire was to see Jesus himself, for he had been told that death would not come until he had seen the Messiah. Finally he does so, and his reaction is that now he can depart in peace. Death is not something to be dreaded, but rather it is an event that leads to the joy and hope believers can enjoy.
One side-effect of Jesus’ arrival--and a theme of the Advent season, as it is at Easter--is this certainty that the goalposts of the game of life have moved. Death is not something to be feared. Now we have a Messiah who will definitively and finally deal with sin, rebellion, guilt, and death with his sacrifice. Because Jesus makes this way available to us, we don’t need to fear death. It is not an end point; it is the gate to further, more abundant life forever with God.
One of the hallmarks of Christmastime is the resurgence of Christmas plays at churches and schools. Some time ago, Franklin Classical School, located outside of Nashville, Tennessee, held a Christmas play involving much of the upper school. One student in particular greatly enjoyed his role in the play, that of a neighborly farmer who loved Christmas and loved to talk. That student was a young man named Andy Tant. A sixteen-year old young man with a vibrant faith, Andy worked hard in all areas of school, but he showed a special talent for acting. And toward the end of the performance, his final line resonated throughout the auditorium: “I believe this is going to be the best Christmas ever!”
It was the next day—December 8, 1996…exactly seventeen years ago today—that Andy told his mother he was taking the car and heading off to church and would see her there later. On the way, Andy’s medication that he had taken earlier made him extremely drowsy, and he fell asleep at the wheel as he approached church. He was hit broadside by another car, and even the air bag deployment could not prevent massive internal injuries. Word came to the church, and Andy’s father Mike, about the wreck. Andy was taken to Vanderbilt Hospital, where his unconscious body held on for several hours while his father and several church leaders prayed nearby. Finally, as Mike closed out a prayer and held Andy’s hand, the young actor quietly exhaled his last breath, and God took him home.
I still remember late that night when my best friend, Phil Covington, who was Andy's brother-in-law, called me with the news of Andy's death. Andy was someone I had befriended through my relationship with Phil, his wife Jennifer, and the entire Tant family, so this was a moment of deep, abject sadness for me.
As sad as the Tant family felt and still feel over losing their son and brother, they continue to take great comfort in the reality that because Jesus had come to earth, lived, died, and rose again, he had transformed what life was about. They could take hope in the fact that Andy’s death—while sooner than they expected—was not the end of his life, but the gate to eternal enjoyment. (I'd like to think that when our Jordan left us, the first person he met in heaven was Andy.)
Andy had been right: It would be the best Christmas ever. It would be so because Jesus’ invasion into our world would move the goalposts of life. It would be so because Jesus’ death meant our death would not have the final say. It was Andy’s best Christmas ever, and it continues to be so, for he celebrates it every day now.