Ecclesiastes 3: 1-13
For God has put a sense of past and a future into their minds…..
I have a riddle for you…WWJDONYE? Did you ever wonder or think about what Jesus did to celebrate his New Years Eve? Although Jewish, and would have celebrated the Jewish new year of Rosh Hashanah, somehow back then they had to have marked the end of one Julian calendar year from the next. I think that he probably spent the evening with friends, maybe some family, I don’t imagine that it was too wild and crazy, although who knows, he was in his late 20’s early 30’s and we know those are the years for sowing wild oats.
Maybe at midnight he went outside with some earthenware pots and stick utensils and made lots of racket, waking up the dogs in that sleepy town of Nazareth. Or maybe him and his buddy, Peter lit off some homemade bottle rockets back behind the temple when the high priest had just fallen asleep. Or just maybe he took that fishing boat out for a midnight cruise on the Sea of Galilee sipping a glass of fine vintage wine – you know, only the best for Jesus. And then after a glass or two retelling some of his more intriguing and thought provoking parables to the delight of his passengers, their voices echoing loudly across the water and into the quiet valley around the sea.
Who knows? What we know is that years did pass one from the other. There is a moment in everyone’s life when one year is defined from the next. For Jesus there was one New Year’s Eve in which he knew that he would not see the next year through. In fact he knew that it would be his last new year’s eve. Knowing Hebrew scripture as he did so well, maybe he consoled himself with the words of Qohelet, the teacher, that “for everything there really is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven”. His time had come. The natural order of things in his life will soon come to a halt. Not my will, but thy will be done he prays.
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to throw away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.
What gain have the workers from their toil? I have seen the business that God has given to everyone to be busy with. He has made everything suitable for its time; moreover he has put a sense of past and future into their minds, yet they cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. I know that there is nothing better for them than to be happy and enjoy themselves as long as they live; moreover, it is God’s gift that all should eat and drink and take pleasure in all their toil.
So often this passage is read at funerals when someone has died to ease the pain and grief of death but it actually contains a much broader message, one of the vicissitudes of life and of assurance. Assurance that there is order not chaos, that there is a rhyme and reason and above all hope.
Jesus, I don’t think, would have passively entered the new year, I believe that he would have taken an inventory of his life, did he honor Mary and Joseph, did he handle his power and authority with humility and not abusively? Could he live out the rest of his life as a faithful Jew and lover of the law? Were there relationships that he had to reconcile? He certainly had the capacity for deep and honest reflection and prayer. I imagine that his final new year’s eve was spent in quiet contemplation of the meaning of his life and God’s greater purpose. He had a heightened sense of the past and the future while being in the present.
Today is the last day of 2017. It’s time to wrap things up for another year before crossing the threshold into a new one. How was it for you? Close your eyes and let’s take a moment to think back on 2017. Does it bring you joy or pain? If we take the metaphor of a book. Are you ready to close the book entitled 2017? Are you slamming it shut? Are you finishing the last chapter and reaching gently to put it down with the story lingering in your thoughts, warming your heart? Have you even finished the book or are you stuck in one chapter? What keeps you from reading the end of the book? Just think for a moment….
Some years, without a doubt, are more difficult and challenging than others. Some years bring life and some death. Some years bring abundance and some scarcity. Some years do result in irreconcilable relationships and some years produce much love. Some years are wonderful and some just plain rotten and, there are years that contain it all, a roller coaster ride of emotion.
Ecclesiastes speaks of the great passages of life, some in which we have no control over, some in which we do. It says that life is not random or erratic but really pretty orderly. That there is a time, maybe not a reason, but a time for everything that happens and that God has put a sense of the past and future into our minds to give us hope and to let us be co-authors of our lives. Our past informs our today but it does not have to define our tomorrow. We do have options in what the coming year will mean.
If you need forgiveness, ask for it. If you need to forgive, then work on it. If you need healing, pray for it, pray for God to open your eyes to all the ways in which your healing will emerge. If you are lost, choose a path and go down it because if it’s the wrong path you’ll quickly discover it and you can amend it, and if it is the right path you’ll find yourself skipping merrily along. If your dreams go up in smoke, build new dreams. And if you are just grateful to be alive then cling to it and cherish it and give thanks to God.
In the fourth quartet, ‘Little Gidding’, of T.S. Eliot’s beautiful poem ‘Four Quartets’, he writes, “For last year’s words belong to last year’s language and next year’s words await another voice. What we call the beginning is often the end and to make an end is to make a beginning.”
2017 is an end. 2018 is a beginning. How grateful I am that God has brought me to this point. I hope you are too because this new year can and will bring healing and hope and new opportunity. How can it not? There IS another voice awaiting us in that future as Eliot pens, calling us into next year.
That voice is God’s voice. It is heard in the angel voices, there will be joy. It is heard through the gifts of the Magi, life is a precious treasure. It is heard through the shepherd’s actions, I will guide you and take care of you, I will seek you out when you are lost and feed you when you are hungry. And God’s voice is most poignantly heard in the birth of Jesus the Christ; I will redeem you and call you home. You see God is never silent but continually speaks to us, year after year after year.
I wish for you and pray for you only the best in 2018. May your challenges be met with God’s grace guiding you. May your joys be shared so that others may know joy too. May your riches enable you to do great things and may your poverty bring about a clearer vision and strength of character.
May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be and abide with you now, and all your future nows.