There have been many memorable parts of my college days, but one of the most unusual and even hilarious events was the annual ritual of releasing the students to go home for Christmas.
We had all been chawin’ at the bit for weeks. We’d slaved over our textbooks and endured pop quizzes stoically, but in the midst of even the most difficult lecture we would wander back to that little corner of our mind that was stubbornly fixed on Mom’s home-cooked lasagna and the fresh-cut Christmas tree in the front room. We could practically smell the pine scent and feel the needles on the carpet!
Oh, the early weeks of December were the hardest. We thought we’d ease the angst by putting up Christmas lights in the dormitory hallways. Some students hung stockings on their doorknobs, while others broadcast Mannheim Steamroller’s winter holiday album out the windows. One dorm had a hall-against-hall Yuletide decorating competition, and believe me, the resulting displays were stunning. One year the first floor went with a medieval Christmas theme, while the second floor was a Victorian snow-covered train station and the third floor was Santa’s toy factory. It would bring tears to your eyes, brother.
But in the midst of all of the decorating diversions, we would all be talking of going home.
Whether it was the snowy streets of Michigan, the biting wind of Oregon, the flatland farm acres of Texas or the rural villages of Delaware, everyone wanted to get home.
I’d hear Tony talking about sitting at the kitchen table in North Carolina, eating his mom’s ham biscuits. I’d listen to Joel chatting about singing carols back at his home church in St. Louis. Tammy would talk about the beauty of walking through the Pennsylvania countryside, while Melissa would gently argue that nothing could be more wondrous than sitting next to her home fireplace and looking out the window at the Colorado scenery.
Everyone was talking about Christmas break. And you know? In all those years, I don’t recall anyone ever talking about getting any gifts. Not one. Not a student on that campus focused on the presents to be given. They were focused on their reunion with their family.
Yes, that was it. Getting back to the family – that was the magnificent obsession on campus.
Finally the day arrived. I am not sure why, but the university had a strict rule against anyone leaving campus until 6 in the morning; a bell would ring to release us. Believe me, few people slept that night. We all chatted and hung by the dorm room door, our duffel bags tightly in hand and our collective excitement at a fever pitch.
The bell rang and the tidal wave of screaming, running students can only be compared to the New York mob-running-down-the-street scenes of the old black-and-white Godzilla movies. We sprinted, dodged and dove into our cars and screeched off of campus in a tidal wave of hooting, hollering and good-byeing that must have been heard for miles.
We raced through Krispy Kremes, ordering in shouts and peeling out while jamming “Hot and Ready” doughnuts and black coffee down our throats. Bathroom breaks were few and far between (“hold on for one more exit, okay?”).
We were going home to see the family, man. Going home.
That was the joy – to pull up the driveway, tumble out and rush to the waiting arms of parents and siblings. Hugging, crying, laughing, jabbering, more hugging…
The parallel in the Bible is striking. It’s a straightforward word in the Koine Greek. The word is apantesis.
“After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.” – 1 Thess. 4:17
The word for “meet” is apantesis and it means an action meeting a person in an emotional way, and was often used in official terms when describing the regal welcome of a just-arrived dignitary.
New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology author Colin Brown says that apanthesis was the celebration of “the triumphal entry of a new ruler into the capital city and thus to his reign is applied to Christ.”
Yes, Mr. Brown, this indeed tells us about Christ. This word apantesis occurs three times in the New Testament, and was first used in the parable of the ten virgins: “Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him (celebrate his arrival)” (Matt. 25:6). The second time is when Paul was traveling and the disciples in Rome went out to meet him and welcome him in.
Ah, then we have the 1 Thessalonians passage, where we (during the rapture) will welcome Him back and celebrate. We’ll have a party that will be Christmas, Thanksgiving, New Year’s, Super Bowl and Fourth of July wrapped up into one explosive event! This powerful word apantesis gives us an idea of what part we will play in His magnificent return.
Praise God, praise God. Jesus is coming back. No Christmas reunion will equal the wild festivities of that day. No family gathering will be so loud, joyous and raucous. Or so intimate.
In all these years, I don’t recall any Christian ever talking about getting any gifts when Jesus comes back. Not one. Not a Christian in my memory focused on the presents to be given to the Believer. They were focused on their reunion with their Jesus and enjoying the newly-discovered Heavenly family.
Yes, that is it. Getting back to the family – that is the magnificent obsession of the Believer.