At the beginning of each New Year we often hear about people suffering from the ‘January blues’ amidst the short, dark, cold days of winter. The parties are over, the relatives have gone, the euphoria attending decorations and lights, shopping and gifts, food and drink diminishes suddenly, and we find ourselves looking down the road at another year’s journey of opportunity and difficulty, promise and uncertainty. At these seasonal moments of new beginnings, we often wonder if we are up to the task that all of life might bring us again.
Some of our neighbors, held as they are in the grip of the apostate condition of a rebellious heart, feel the full weight of the consequence of sin in their consciousness as the New Year dawns – often expressed by a sense of deep disquiet. Blaise Pascal, the seventeenth-century mathematician and Christian apologist, memorably described the human condition under the power of sin as “boredom, inconstancy, anxiety.’ At the religious root of our being this alienation from God due to sin creates a profound sense of loneliness within, regardless of how many people may surround us, because nobody else can live our life, fulfill our hopes and dreams, or endure our fears, disappointments, failures and miseries in our stead. Each one has to carry their own burden of responsibility for what they will do with the life they are given and how they will respond to life’s circumstances.
The ingenuity of the ways in which people seek to address this lingering sense of insecurity and existential loneliness without recourse to Christ and his Word-revelation seems to know no bounds. Just this past week I saw several news items about the development of new personal technological devices that promised a rewarding relationship with a holographic girlfriend or a desktop robot. The holographic girlfriend or wife, developed in Japan, is a coffee-maker sized device for your nightstand which learns and can interact with you, asking questions and responding to your inquiries as an artificial intelligence of sorts. It was developed specifically to address the loneliness and isolation experienced by multitudes of people living in Japan’s populous urban centres who are nonetheless cut off from true community. The holographic girl offers words of comfort and encouragement as you wake and as you go to sleep.
The other donut-shaped device which can sit on any desktop is an ‘intelligent’ robot that likewise ‘learns’ your personality, responds to all kinds of questions and instructions, and offers an artificial social intercourse, including recommending activities for your day. With the disintegration of the human personality in our technocratic society, which has largely turned its back on the living God, some people end up substituting intimacy with God and his image-bearers for a digital ‘relationship’ of man’s creation to try and fill the void. Perhaps our own created devices can bring us an immanent word of hope, comfort and truth?
The reality is we all need a Word from another to go onward with hope in our sin-ravaged world amidst broken lives. Even if we do not realise it, our deepest need, that which we crave, is fellowship and community, most of all with our Maker. But if our hearts are turned away from the redemptive and restorative Word of God, manifest for us in the person of Christ and set down in Scripture to renew our understanding by the power of the Holy Spirit, faith and hope will be placed in the devices, planning and thinking of men to guide us through the journey of life. Yet by these immanent philosophies and devices the essential problem of life is not resolved, because the very nature of our creature-hood is oriented toward the transcendent God so that our need for a Word from God and fellowship with God cannot find a temporal substitute.
The good news is that God’s healing Word-revelation is closer to us than we are to ourselves. At the beginning of the New Year is the season of Epiphany that celebrates the light that suddenly came to the magi from the East, who journeyed to see the new-born king, bringing gifts to the Lord in his infancy. The Word to these wise men, which met them at every stage of their journey, is instructive and gives expression to the unity that is the Word of God which confronts us everywhere and would be our hope, comfort and guide this year if only our hearts are open by faith.
The Word of God is reflected in the meaning-laden coherence of all creation, and this creation-Word is republished in the Bible. The scriptures open up to us a world rich in symbolic significance where every aspect of creation is meaning, so that a total view of the world takes shape. God’s Word is Truth, showing that this world and all it contains are pointers toward the triune God.
The first thing that struck the magi who understood, however imperfectly, something of the rich symbolic significance of creation, was God’s Word in the natural order. For them the stars were not simply burning gas spheres in the heavens, they carried symbolic meaning. The sun, moon and stars carry profound symbolic meaning throughout Scripture – the prophetic literature is full of references to them not simply as physical objects but as symbols of what God is doing in history. When the magi saw the advent star rising and the rare conjunction in the heavens they knew something was happening of great significance. This was the Word-revelation in creation and it encouraged their hearts and filled them with a sense of hope so that they set out on their journey.
However, the general Word-revelation in creation was not enough to lead and guide them, and it is not enough for us. We all need a particular Word. Just as God spoke personally to our first parents in the garden, we need a particular Word from God. So God has also manifest his Word in the scriptures. The magi were redirected by God’s Word in Micah 5:2 so that they would have specific direction leading them to direct their gaze from Jerusalem, where they assumed this great event would happen, to the nearby Bethlehem, the city of David (Matt. 2:5-6). Thus, having been drawn powerfully by the Word-revelation in creation and then specifically redirected by the prophetic Word-revelation in the Older Covenant scriptures, they finally reached their glorious destination – for as yet they had not fully understood the true wisdom which led them out on this long journey.
And so there in Bethlehem they fell down and worshipped the Word-revelation of God made flesh in the person of Jesus Christ – the dear desire of nations and joy of every trembling heart had come. Here in this child they glimpsed the end to all our loneliness, the destruction of all our fear, the healing of all our diseases, the comfort for all our grief and the forgiveness of all our sins.
At the beginning of another New Year, this Word to the magi is still The Word to the wise; to those who will recognise that in and of ourselves we are not up to the task of life without the restorative Word of God transforming our hearts and stirring faith in the living Word who redirects us on the journey so that we might reach God’s destination for our lives – one that can only be fully realized in the face of Christ. That Word-revelation is manifest in all of God’s creation and is particularized for us in His inscripturated Word as the Holy Spirit makes Christ live and abide in us.
There is no escaping the reality and power of this Word. The only question is whether we will submit to it in faith this year or seek our own way. This also means we may not toy with this Word as though it were subject to our whims and desires, or might be manipulated to our own purpose. King Herod, who clearly believed in God and recognised (and feared) the true Word of the prophets, sought to use and exegete the Word to fulfill his own purpose, and thus turned on the wise and sought the destruction of the living Word. The magi’s return home by another way was a slap in the face to the rebel Herod, who only searched the Word for his own ends.
The Word of God is not a resource for our purposes, it is directive, it is a law-Word and it must shape the totality of our lives if we would walk in life and hope in fellowship with God. As Klaas Schilder rightly warns, “Let us be careful with God and his Word. Whoever stains the revealed word of God with his hostile ideas will obtain a conscience of stone, and the hardening of hearts makes of those who search the scriptures men who lift up the sword against God and his anointed.”
Let us walk into this New Year with the joy of knowing that God’s Word is a lamp to the feet and a light to the path of the wise who recognise and receive the Word-revelation with faith and hope. No one in possession of this Word need stumble in the dark, nor shall their foot slip in the hour of trial, for their hand is in the hand of Jesus.
 Klaas Schilder, Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh: Daily meditations on the Bible for Reformation of Family, Church and State (Pella, IA: Inheritance Publications, 2013).