First Sunday of the Millennium
This is really the Second Sunday After Christmas, but in view of the start of a new century, indeed a new millennium, I thought it would be more fitting to call this the First Sunday of the Millennium. Even though you purist know that the new century/millennium doesn't really begin till 2001, with all the world acting like it began yesterday, our thoughts cannot but be drawn to the future. As never before, I find myself thinking what does the future hold for my family, my church, my country, myself. And you know what I find? I haven't the foggiest idea. In 1900 Ladies Home Journal published predictions for the year 2000. Those that were based on deductions made from existing inventions like cars, central heat, and telescopes were right. But for those predictions for which they had little to go on they were consistently wrong.
For example, by the year 2000 there would be no C, X, or Q in our alphabet. The second most popular language spoken in the US after English would be Russian. Nicaragua and Mexico would be the next two states admitted to the Union. By the year 2000, exercise will be so popular the person who doesn't walk 10 miles daily will be regarded as a weakling. The U.S. population, then at 76 million, would soar to 500 million; that's wrong by about 225 million.
Think about the future, not just yours but your family, your kids and grandkids. Think about our church where will she be when she is 161 years old? What will America be like on her 300th birthday - will there even be one? Will you die from old age? Will the 30 year-old war on cancer be won, or will it be won only for a new disease to take the battlefield? Who can answer such questions with anything more than speculation? We have no vantage point from which to look, do we? It's like trying to look at an entire forest while standing inside the trees.
The only thing we can say about the future of this world, this church, us or our family is what the Bible clearly says. This world is passing away. Everything from buildings to the ground they are built on, everything from rockets to Mars, to the men and women who are building them, to the planet they are flying to, is passing away. Things we regard as so permanent, so stable, so eternal, the Scripture describes as meltable as butter. The Lord stands in Washington, D.C. looking at the seat of our government, at the majestic buildings and monuments of our great nation and says, "This nation is like a drop in a bucket, a speck of dust on My divine scales." "All the nations are as nothing before Him. They are regarded by Him as less than nothing and meaningless," thus saith the Lord in Isaiah 40:17.
As for us, Scripture describes our years as a handbreadth, our lives as fleeting as vapor on a windowpane. Not one of us will live to see a another millennium dawn. Not even the incredibly long lived Methuselah did that. He died at 969. I doubt even the youngest of us will even live to see a new century. Scripture clearly teaches us that everything we see, without exception, governments, mountains, planets, and galaxies are temporal, i.e. temporary. Only unseen things are eternal. So what does the future hold? We can only say with 100% certainty that it holds change and decay.
There is no comfort, no hope, in our future. They may or may not cure this or that. The United Nations may or may not bring about the peace they've been working half a century for. The only thing we can say for sure is that in the future decay and deterioration will continue. Therefore, the comfort can't be in knowing the future. No, the comfort, the hope can only be in knowing Who holds the future.
Who holds our future? He who was "in the beginning." The "in the beginning" of John 1 is the same "in the beginning" of Genesis 1. Before there was space or time, before all things began to decay, the Second Person of the Trinity, God the Son, our Savior, WAS. Go back as far as you can, Christ was there. Without Him not one single thing was made that has been made, John tells us. Not only that, but He holds all things together right now says Colossians. Who holds the future? The Christ who created and holds together all that we presently see.
More than this, all that has taken place since He created the world has been in His hands too. The Book of Revelation describes this beautifully in pictures. It shows all of history as a scroll written on both sides and sealed with seven seals that no one in all of heaven or earth can open. Christ comes on the scene and He is "worthy to open the scroll." The hymn of praise we sing at the beginning of the service, "This is the Feast", is based on what all of heaven sings because Jesus can open the scroll. And what does Jesus set in motion? The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse: tyranny, war, famine, and death come stampeding out. The saints suffer and destruction sweeps across mankind. Do note; the comfort in the Book of Revelation is not that everything is peachy keen in the future of the Church. The comfort for the Church is in Who is holding the future.
Again the Book of Revelation has wonderful pictures for us to see the truth. It pictures Christ as a Lamb having been slain. The One who holds our future is none other then the Lamb who for sinners bled. The hands that were nailed brutally to the Cross for our sins, these are the hands we are in. It's like the woman who saved her child from a burning home and ended up with terribly scarred hands. Those scarred hands were always a comfort to the child because if her mom would do that for her what wouldn't she do? So, the nail-pierced hands of Christ which hold us through weal and woe are a comfort to sinners.
But there would be precious little comfort if the One who held us and our future in His hands was subject to the same change and decay we are. That's why that Hebrews passage is so comforting, "Jesus Christ the same yesterday, today and forever." The world grows older, sicker, and more deteriorated each passing year but Christ Jesus, the One holding the world and His Church in particular doesn't. This truth is boldly declared in one of the oldest communion liturgies we have. The Didache which dates to 150 A.D. has the pastor saying right before the Communion, "Grace [i.e. Christ] come and this world goes by." The congregation responded with: "Hosanna to the Son of David." Christ comes again and again in the Communion ever new, ever fresh to a world that is ever going away.
The fact that Christ is the One who holds our future is an immense comfort, but there is more. He not only holds are future, He holds us. He holds us not we Him. Most of us have this idea that we must hold on to Jesus, and as long as we do that everything will be okay. But dear friends, it is impossible for kids to hold on to parents. Haven't you ever been with a child during icy weather? He or she might say to you that they are big enough to walk on their own. After they fall, they still will refuse to have YOU hold their hand; they're too big for that. No, THEY will hold your hand. That doesn't work either because they're not strong enough to maintain their grip when they start slipping. The only way for kids not to fall is if their parent holds their hand. And so it is with us. The only way we're able to face the uncertain future is to be held by the One who holds it.
And what do you hear in the Epistle reading about Him? We were chosen in Him before the foundation of the world. Friend, if you were chosen by God in Christ to be saved before there was even a world, do you think His choice of you is going to be effected by the change, decay, and eventual destruction of the world? No, He didn't make His choice of you based on anything you do in this world, have in this world, or do for Him in this world. God made His choice of you before there was a world.
What did the Father chose us for in Christ? To be holy and blameless says St. Paul. Before you go running in the usual direction with this statement, as if God is saying He picked us to be good and upright, to live godly lives to His glory, read the rest of the sentence. "He chose us in Him ...to be holy and blameless in His sight." God picked us up in the hands of Christ so we could be holy and blameless in His sight. This is not a statement of what we are to be in Christ but what we are. God for the sake of Christ has put us where we He cannot see our sins but only the righteousness of Christ. We are holy and blameless not because we don't have sins but because our God can't see them. He can't see them because, in the Words of the Old Testament reading, "He has clothed me with the garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness."
Friends, don't face the future as if you're on probation with God, as if things are still up in the air between you and Him, as if you were not the apple of His eye and He did not have you engraved on the palms of His hands, as Scripture declares He does. Don't face the future thinking that if you don't mess things up between you and God then things will work out all right. Don't you see that is just another way of saying you're really the one holding on to God rather than He to you? Nonsense. He grabbed hold of you in the wounds of Christ, before the foundation of the world, to place you forever under the blood pouring from those wounds, and you are holy and blameless there.
Face the future as you really are: a baptized, fully redeemed, completely saved child of God. Don't you know how parents look at their children? Don't you know how they are blind to their faults? Don't you know that easier than you can overlook the faults and sins of your children, God can overlook yours? Why because He looses track of them as the waters of your Baptism continually run over your life. Sound too good to be true, to much to dare believe? Didn't you hear what the Introit teaches? The Lord delights in whom? Those who don't sin? Those who do their best? No, in those "who put their hope in His unfailing love!"
But does that mean every thing will be roses in 2000 and beyond? Read Revelation. There is plenty of heartache, tears, suffering and sadness, but through it all the Lord carefully keeps track of, upholds, and blesses His Church. St. John says it this way, "From the fullness of His grace we have all received one blessing after another."
This is a poor, unpicturesque translation. It literally reads, "Out of the fullness of His grace we all did receive grace for grace." God is so gracious in Christ that His grace overflows into our life. Yes, when sickness takes the grace of health away another grace shows up. When death takes away the grace a loved one provides in your life another grace overflows to you. When suffering, hardship and heartache rob you of one of God's graces in the future, another one will most certainly show up because they flow from the ever flowing font of grace, Jesus Christ.
This will happen as far into the future as your life goes. And then what will you find? You will find at the end when you close your eyes for the last time, you will find the very same Jesus who has been holding the future and you in His nail pierced hands. . "My times are in Thy hands," wrote King David in about 1000 B.C. To this we say in 2000 A.D., "Amen." Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin Texas
Second Sunday After Christmas (1-2-00)