Thou Crownest the Year
with Thy Goodness
Christmas comes at the end of the year, after the harvest has been gathered in and men's labours have measurably ceased. It comes after all the activities of summer days, all the out-workings of plans and schemes, all the planting and building, have reached their climax and attained their object. Christmas is a time for casting the mind back upon the events and achievements of the past twelve months, and for rejoicing in that which has been done. The work of the year is complete, and Christmas crowns that work.
The Israelites began their civil New Year in the Autumn, after the fruits of their labours had been gathered in and sowing for next year's crops was about to commence. It was then that they observed their Feast of Tabernacles, and in the fiftieth year sounded the Trumpet of Jubilee that proclaimed liberty to the captives and the opening of the prison to them that were bound, calling every man to enter once more upon his inheritance. It was an inheritance which, perchance, he had lost many years before by reason of sin or misfortune. The Feast of Tabernacles was to Israel what Christmas is to us ‑ the glory of achievement for one year's work, the anticipation of another year of sowing and reaping and building and sitting down under the vine and fig tree. It is small wonder that it was a time of rejoicing. It is small wonder that our God, in His wisdom, chose this season of the year for the coming to earth of His Son ‑ for Christmas, the traditional birthday of Jesus, was not actually the time of that event. It was Autumn when He came. Autumn, the time of the beginning again, the time for a fresh start in the things of men and the things of God. We, in our day, are more accustomed to think of the turn of the sun to longer and brighter days as being the beginning of better things. We look longingly for the "shortest day" and then say one to another "the evenings will soon be drawing out again". It is therefore appropriate that we look upon Christmas as did Israel upon the Feast of Tabernacles, and celebrate with our friends and neighbours the birth of Jesus, the dawn of new hope for the world, and a guarantee that there shall be a beginning again.
But the people of the world in general do not see that dawn of hope. The statesmen of the world still grope their way unseeingly, feeling for peace, and finding it not, because the way of peace is not in their hearts. The shadow of war still hangs over us. The menace of rivalry between great world powers glowers at us from the darkness. Distrust is rampant everywhere. Food shortage and housing shortage is world-wide. There seems, on the surface, little enough reason for man to look up to God and say "Thou crownest the year with thy goodness".
The reason is not far to seek. It is because the shadow of sin still lies over mankind. There is to be a day when God will "destroy the covering that is cast over all people, and the veil that is spread over all nations" (Isa. 25. 7) but that day is not yet. We look for the coming of a Kingdom that will remove sin from the hearts of men and then all these evils from which the world now suffers will take flight and be gone. But that Kingdom is not yet here, and we must take heed of the present. It is a great and glorious part of our commission to tell men of the coming Age with its rule of righteousness and its opportunities of blessing and advancement toward human perfection. It is good that we comfort weary hearts with the golden promises of the golden future, with its shimmering vistas of a world at peace, a world in which disease and pain, sorrow and crying are done away.
All this is part of the Christian gospel. But there is another part which is terribly important because it is related so closely to things that are around us every day. It speaks, not of health, but of pain; not of peace, but of war; not of good, but of evil. It points to the fact that the cause of all these things is sin and that sin must be removed. That sin cannot be removed until there is first repentance, and conversion, and a coming to Jesus in full surrender of life to be moulded by Him into the fashion of that new life of the future Age. Although it is true that the great day of this work is the future day, the Millennial Age, it is also true that the gospel we preach now is the same gospel that will be preached then. We too, in this our day, must call men, as Peter called men two thousand years ago, to repentance and conversion, before they can properly appreciate the glorious promises of the Age.
We tend to come short in this. We are too apt to assume a Christian standing in those to whom we witness, and endeavour to convert them to our own understanding of God's Plan before we are sure that they are already converted to Christ. We think, perhaps, rather too much in terms of adding adherents to a fellowship and not enough of adding believers to Christ. Do we, one wonders, need to take to heart more seriously than we have done, the words of Jesus "Ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and. . ."? In this dark day of the world's distress surely we need above all things to establish the faith of men in Christ the Lord, and on that basis begin to instruct them in things concerning His Kingdom.
Another thing we tend to forget is that we cannot convert others until we have converted ourselves. We cannot lead other men into a Kingdom into which we ourselves have not yet entered. There is a very real sense in which we, who have 'come into Christ', are called to enter His Kingdom here and now. Have we done so? Is it true of us that "the Kingdom of God is within you"? Have we "entered into rest" (Heb. 4.3) or are we like those of old who failed to enter in "because of unbelief"?
Men will ask us concerning our faith and hope for the future, and the way of life which we declare that men will be called upon to follow in that day, "Does it work?" Unless we can show that it does work, and has worked, in our own lives now, how can we expect them to heed our witness regarding the future? There is danger of spiritual complacency. We are so sure of our own personal salvation, and it is a good thing to be sure, but that very certainty tends to beget a carelessness with regard to others. When, as at the present time, men are generally indifferent to the message, there is a tendency to leave the world to its sin and unbelief and take refuge in the consciousness of personal acceptance with the Lord. Evangelical fervour is dulled by apathy, and the final result is seen in those little companies who have frankly and avowedly abandoned the Christian commission to preach the gospel and are waiting in quietude and seclusion until they are carried away to heavenly glory.
All of this is because we have been unable to "endure to the end". It is only when the end has come that we can expect to see the fruition of our work, and only by patient continuance in well doing that we shall receive the prize of immortality (Rom.2.7). It is noteworthy how often the Scripture stresses this fact. "The Gospel shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations, and then shall the end come." (Matt. 24.14). "Go thou thy way till the end be" (Dan.12.13). "Receiving the end of your faith" (1 Pet.1.9) "At the end it shall speak, and not lie" (Hab. 2.3). "Then cometh the end, when He... shall have put down all rule and all authority and power" (1 Cor.15.24). It is at the end that we shall realise the fruitage of our sowing and reaping.
We can, therefore, read a new meaning into the Psalmist's words, putting emphasis on "crownest" instead of on "goodness". "Thou crownest the year with thy goodness!" It is not until the end of things that God as it were puts the topstone on his structure and his goodness stands revealed to all men. It is not until the end of this present world that the light of the glory of the Kingdom shines to all men; not until the end of the Church's career in the flesh that she shines forth "as the sun" in the Kingdom of the Father (Matt. 13.43).
So Christmas becomes a symbol and an earnest of the end that shall come, even though the past and present be dark and discouraging. We enter upon its familiar customs with knowledge that a greater and more glorious time of festivity and gladness awaits the world "at the time of the end". The short passage in Psa. 65 in which this phrase "thou crownest the year with thy goodness" occurs is quite evidently framed to fit Millennial conditions. If not a direct prophecy of the coming Age, it certainly is a wonderful illustration and the "crowning" of that Age with God's goodness, the natural climax.
"Blessed is he whom thou dost choose and bring near, to dwell in thy courts, We shall be satisfied with the goodness of thy house, thy holy temple." (Psalm 65.4)