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The days between Christmas and the new year can be disenchanting. The excitement buildup to Christmas has expired, ordinary life is setting back in, and the lights begin to come down. For children, the new-toy effect wears off swiftly. Perhaps the gatherings weren’t as merry, the food wasn’t as savory, the home wasn’t as cozy, and the gifts weren’t as shiny as in our hopeful expectations. Whatever the source of disappointment, the inevitable holiday letdown can dampen the cheeriest of spirits. Despair can creep in. But for the Christian, the post-Christmas gloom is an occasion for ardent hope. The difference between despair and hope is found in our recognition that we have a longing that can’t possibly be met by that which is attainable in this present world.
According to Hebrews 11, many of the saints of old journeyed through this earthly life with a keen recognition of this reality. Certainly Abraham had dreams of what the promised land of Canaan might look like, what his home would look like. Over time, as Abraham journeyed throughout and around Canaan, he came to this realization—the one that we might come to after Christmastime. He was convinced that not all that God had promised him was to be found in the earthly land of Canaan. No, it was to be found in another promised land, one of which the earthly Canaan was merely a shadow. How do we know for sure that Abraham came to this realization? Well, Hebrews 11 tells us that Abraham’s longing for another land was uncovered in his willingness to dwell in tents in the land of promise:
By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. (Heb. 11:9–10)
The land that God had promised to Abraham felt like a foreign land to him, similar to how our homes might at times feel like a foreign land. It felt like a foreign land to Abraham because he was looking for another home—a city with foundations—that he could call his forever home.
It was this hope, this grasping onto the promises of God, that allowed him to dwell in a tent. Geerhardus Vos identified this hope as “heavenly-mindedness,” a longing for our heavenly home so fervent that all earthly possessions are mere reminders of what’s in store for those who love God (1 Cor. 2:9). Vos wrote:
He who knows that for him a palace is in building does not dally with desires for improvement on a lower scale. Only the predestined inhabitants of the eternal city know how to conduct themselves in a simple tent as kings and princes of God.
We might say that it’s only the predestined inhabitants of the eternal city who know how to eat Christmas leftovers in an empty home as kings and princes of God.