The image of a candlelight service on New Year’s Eve of 1987 is forever emblazoned in my mind’s eye. This midnight service was the closing ceremony for Intervarsity’s five-day Missions Conference called Urbana. The stadium where we met was full of college students that evening, all joining their voices in praising God. The stadium lights were dimmed during the closing song, the instruments quieted, and about 18,701 other students and I sang acapella. Somehow at that moment, I caught a glimpse of the kingdom of Heaven breaking out here on earth just before midnight.
Minutes later, the sacred hush vanished as the house lights were raised. Students poured forth into that cold night focused on departure. Fetching bags from our dorms and trekking across the busy campus to various charter buses proved difficult. Suddenly suitcases tripled in weight, and long lines of students choked every pathway. If my then-boyfriend (and future husband) had not helped me that night, I would probably have missed my bus back to Texas.
Whenever we catch a glimpse of God’s kingdom, it can be disruptive to our routines, destructive to the status quo, and a disclosure that can’t be missed. As Christians, we are currently citizens of God’s kingdom. However, until Jesus returns to earth, we live in an in-between time of the now and not yet. God’s kingdom will not reach its full expression until Jesus comes back to reign.
The week between Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve can be a time for looking back over the previous year for evaluation and looking ahead to make resolutions for the coming year. It’s a season for looking back and ahead.
Psalm 97 celebrates the now of God’s rule and reign and the not yet of Jesus’ coming again to rule and reign forever. It is a portrait of hope writ large and designed to give each of us the stamina to go on in this topsy turvy season.
1 The Lord reigns, let the earth rejoice; let the many coastlands be glad!
2 Clouds and thick darkness are all around him; righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne.
The Lord reigns, and every person in every land can rejoice. The phrase “the many coastlands” refers to how writers of the Psalms often saw the twenty-one countries that surrounded the Mediterranean Sea as representative of the entire world. Whether each of those countries’ governments acknowledges God’s rule or not, He still reigns.
The future reign of the Lord will be disruptive because clouds and thick darkness like storms will swirl around Him. His future rule will disrupt the structures of injustice that exist today in our world. Corrupt institutions and a beyond capacity criminal justice system will all fade away when God sits on His final throne. He will serve as the judge once and for all and thoroughly know the truth in every person’s heart.
3 Fire goes before him and burns up his adversaries all around. 4 His lightnings light up the world; the earth sees and trembles. 5 The mountains melt like wax before the Lord, before the Lord of all the earth.
God’s reign will feature destruction as fire decimates God’s adversaries, and storms bring powerful lightning to illuminate wrongdoing. The whole earth will respond by trembling. The mountain ranges will fall into the sea like candle wax melting when faced with God’s powerful reign.
6 The heavens proclaim his righteousness, and all the peoples see his glory. 7 All worshipers of images are put to shame, who make their boast in worthless idols; worship him, all you gods! 8 Zion hears and is glad, and the daughters of Judah rejoice, because of your judgments, O Lord. 9 For you, O Lord, are most high over all the earth; you are exalted far above all gods. 10 O you who love the Lord, hate evil! He preserves the lives of his saints; he delivers them from the hand of the wicked.
God’s wonders will be disclosed to every living creature. No one will miss God’s return. There will be no fear of being left behind or missing out on the Lord’s rule. It will be trumpeted over all the earth. Everyone who loves the Lord will be delivered from evil forever.
11 Light is sown for the righteous, and joy for the upright in heart. 12 Rejoice in the Lord, O you righteous, and give thanks to his holy name!
Light and joy will be sown when the Lord returns to rule for eternity, and a harvest of revelation will be reaped for the upright and the righteous. Spontaneous worship will break out across the world. There will likely be a chorus of extraordinary acapella singing.
Take a moment in this in-between week to capture this vision of hope in your mind’s eye. It’s a radical, disruptive disclosure of God’s power, might, and mercy. Let that settle deep within your soul for whatever you face this week. Whether you are celebrating your year in review or hoping to see real change in 2022, know that despite what the latest headlines might tell you, God reigns.