“In my end is my beginning.” So T.S. Eliot writes in Four Quartets, a poem that has shepherded me through some of the darker seasons of my life. We marked the beginning of Advent today, and as happens, we begin with the end—by turning our hearts and minds to the return of the Lord Jesus, so that we might be prepared for the celebration of his Incarnation. It is an odd thing to begin by looking beyond Christmas; the Christian story, after all, seems like it begins in a manger. Only it doesn’t: it begins instead at the beginning, when the Word was with God, and the Word was God, and when all things were made through Him, without whom nothing was made that has been made. Christmas happens in the middle of an ongoing narrative of Christ’s redemption—a narrative that has its conclusion at the end of all things. By seeing Christmas in light of the end, we also see it in light of the beginning—and so see it as it truly and properly is.
We will spend the next few weeks deliberately and intentionally waiting for the return of the Lord. The season of expectant hope is one in which the anxiety about all our projects and plans can be expunged with a peace that has a truer, better anxiety built in: will we be ready for that return? Whether we shall save enough for retirement matters little next to the question of whether the Son of Man shall find faith on the earth.
For my part, Advent could not have come soon enough. 2018 was the Year Worse Than None Can be Conceived for me, which means anything could have happened this year and I would have thought it all okay. Even so, this year has been by all accounts a very happy one. My marriage has been exceedingly happy, I have deepened bonds with many of my nearest friends, I have enjoyed my work more than ever before, I have been honored to write this here newsletter, and so on. It’s really been a great year.
And yet, I find myself on this the first Sunday of Advent feeling—tired. A busy travel schedule and new responsibilities this fall left me with less reading time than I had hoped—and as a result, I have found myself feeling thinner within my soul than I would like. Weirdly, writing this newsletter has become something of a barometer for my intellectual and spiritual health: when I am able to come up with topics easily and throw down words quickly, I infer that things are going reasonably well. But that hasn’t been the case for the past six weeks or so. It has been harder to think of matters to write about, and more difficult to write when I did think of words. Some of my struggle has arisen, I think, from broader frustrations with my professional and writing goals. But most of it is simply because I’ve not had the time at home to rest and reflect that I feel I generally need.
But Advent is a new beginning—for this here newsletter, too. I undertook this project because I wanted to help people discern the ‘path before us.’ That wasn’t a very sharply delineated goal, but my aim was to focus primarily on helping readers (you) reason morally about those choices or situations that were near at hand. Regardless of the arena, I want to help. That has meant I’ve taken up a rather eclectic set of topics, as I’ve been pulled in a variety of directions.
While that form of writing makes me extremely happy, I also need to keep my end more sharply in mind—and the provisional end toward which my life must be focused in the next year is writing books. I have two which I plan on undertaking as soon as possible, which means that this here newsletter may become for the next season more sharply focused on questions and issues that come up through my research and writing. I still want to help—and if someone puts out a real question for ‘Pro et Contra,’ you’d better believe I’m going to write up responses. And I’ll keep moving my way slowly through 1 Corinthians, because that book is at the center of one of my book projects. But the themes which this newsletter will pursue will be more densely concentrated in the months to come around a smaller cluster of issues.
What issues? Politics, for one. I work out my thoughts on political theology roughly every four years (which naturally happens to coincide with Presidential elections). I don’t plan on addressing granular questions of policy, even though the ‘path before us’ will include decisions about voting in the next twelve months. But I am interested in exploring how faith, hope, and love might animate our society’s quest for (social) justice, and how an ‘evangelical’ account of our life together might provide the best and clearest hope for…well, for preserving our life together. I began developing the project in earnest this year for the talks I gave at Biola’s Torrey Honors Institute, but the time has come for me to bring it to completion. And then there’s a book on marriage in me. There are several, actually, but there’s one big, academic account of marriage and household that I really need to write over the next year as well. More news on that front will be forthcoming shortly.
I say that only to invite you to either become a member, and help me write these books—or cease being one for a while, if you’d rather not hear anything about either. I say all this also to say that I’m going to slow the pace of the newsletter through the end of this calendar year. I’ll send out two a week, and none the week before Christmas…in part because I’m tired and in need of refreshment, and in part because I’ve plans to take a writing retreat to churn out as many words as I can for these books the week before Christmas. If you’re a member and want a free month, let me know and I can arrange that.
Finally, may I request your prayers as I begin writing? I am genuinely daunted by the tasks I am trying to undertake—because while I think I am reasonable well positioned to help on both issues, I don’t feel especially well prepared to do so. I am excited to spend this next year writing, and eager to be of service to others. But I also feel the need to invite you to intercede for me as I undertake this task, that the labor which I would undertake in this new Christian year would not be in vain, so that I might meet the Lord at His coming with joy and gladness.