Around a million people packed into New York City’s Times Square on New Year’s Eve to watch the “ball drop” usher in 2024, while an estimated audience of one billion (my wife and I included) watched from home. The ball, which was twelve feet in diameter and weighed twelve tons, featured a new design this year based on the bow tie shape of the actual Times Square.
This was not the only such event around the country, however. Mobile, Alabama, dropped a six-hundred-pound electric MoonPie as onlookers ate the world’s largest MoonPie cake. Boise, Idaho, dropped a giant potato, while Las Cruces, New Mexico, dropped a nineteen-foot chrome chile and Raleigh, North Carolina, dropped a ten-foot-tall copper and steel acorn.
My favorite such event took place in Lebanon, Pennsylvania, where a ball of bologna was used to celebrate the new year. My least favorite was in Key West, Florida, where a drag queen was lowered inside a supersized red high heel shoe.
“Where I am you may be also”
It seems safe to predict that these or similar events will occur at the end of 2024 to ring in 2025. The ball drop in Times Square has been employed for more than a century, and many of the others are now longstanding traditions.
One year, however, will be our last year. One New Year’s Day will be our last New Year’s Day. I cannot say that today will be that day, but I cannot say that it will not.
Even if Jesus doesn’t return to our planet this year, he may come back for you or for me. Sixty-seven million people died in 2022; if a third of them were Christians (as befits our percentage of the global population), he came for more than twenty million believers that year and likely a similar number in 2023.
Each time, he keeps his promise: “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:3). And he will return one day to our planet just as surely as he left it: “This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11).
“Bethlehem, Act 2”
Just as Jesus entered our world physically at Christmas, so he enters our lives spiritually when we trust him as our Savior and Lord (1 Corinthians 3:16; Colossians 1:27). He remains in us and with us throughout our lives (Matthew 28:20). And when he returns for us in death or his Second Coming, we are united with him for all eternity.
This is why he could promise the thief dying with him at Calvary, “Today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). It is why he could state, “Everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” (John 11:26). And it is why Paul could testify, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21).
Charles Spurgeon connected Jesus’ first coming to his second coming this way: “Immanuel, God with us in our nature, in our sorrow, in our lifework, in our punishment, in our grave, and now with us, or rather we with him, in resurrection, ascension, triumph, and Second Advent splendor” (his emphasis).
Max Lucado made the same connection with his usual artistic brilliance:
Bethlehem was just the beginning. Jesus has promised a repeat performance. Bethlehem, Act 2. No silent night this time, however. The skies will open and trumpets will blast and a new kingdom will begin. He will empty the tombs and melt the winter of death. Death, you die! Life, you reign! The manger dares us to believe the best is yet to be.
One reason we don’t know when Jesus will return
To summarize: Jesus’ first advent was no more real or historical than his second advent will be. If you believe in his birth, you must believe in his return. Here’s the difference: the former asks only that we celebrate him as a baby, while the latter requires us to be ready to meet him as our King.
If the thought of Jesus’ return fills us not with joy but with trepidation, we should ask ourselves why. St. Augustine spoke to this sentiment:
We love him, yet we fear his coming. Are we really certain that we love him? Or do we love our sins more? Therefore let us hate our sins and love him who will exact punishment for them. He will come whether we wish it or not. Do not think that because he is not coming just now, he will not come at all. He will come, you know not when.
Since none of us knows when we will meet the Lord, the best way to live this new year is to be ready every day for that day. But this is not only so we are prepared for that day, whenever it comes.
It is also because being ready to meet Jesus today is the best way to live today.
If you knew you would meet your Lord through your death or his return next week, what would you change in your life this week? What sins would you confess? What would you stop doing or start doing? Whom would you forgive? Whose forgiveness would you seek?
Doing each of these things is best for us even if we were guaranteed another fifty years of life on this planet. I believe this to be one reason we do not know the timing of our Lord’s return—so we can live our best life every day by living in expectation of the day we meet him (Matthew 24:44).
David Jeremiah connected the first advent to the second this way: “When Christ returns, and only then, will the angel’s message to the shepherds be totally fulfilled: Peace on earth, goodwill toward men.”
What if it were today?