The Old Testament lesson for New Year’s Day might be the only reading from the Bible that is acceptable to everyone. It is heard in public schools and often intoned at a memorial ceremony for a celebrity attended by people of any or no faith. It might be called a “secular” poem expressed as a litany of fourteen counterbalanced words lined out in seven verses that offend no one, since it is all about time in all its human dimensions -
when the lesson stops at verse eight.
But then at verse 10 and on through the lesson scheduled to be read on New Year’s Sunday, human time becomes God’s time which perplexes and confounds us with the counsel attributed to King Solomon, who, at the end of his life takes on the role of “the Preacher” passing down counsel based on all the mistakes he has made
Jay Smith, a Brethren in Christ missionary, serving among Muslims in London, writes:
The purpose of Ecclesiastes is to spare future generations the suffering and misery of seeking after foolish, meaningless, materialistic emptiness, and to offer wisdom by discovering truth in seeking after God. (http://biblehub.com/summary/ecclesiastes)
“Setting our souls to God’s time” – the challenge of the New Year’s Old Testament lesson, which when followed promises three blessings.
The first blessing waits to be accepted through the words: He (God) has made everything suitable for its time;
moreover he (God) has put a sense of past and future into their minds, All the counterbalanced words lined out in seven verses: a time to be born, a time to die, and on through the reading, are within God’s time; in each one God is present; yet they (we) cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.
Mary Luti in the year’s end “God is still speaking” daily devotional picked up those words to remind us that we are not the best judges of our time, with the current example being 2016, as people, beginning with ourselves, may be heard saying: “the worst year, ever!” and “It can’t end soon enough!”
Yet Mary Luti lifts up a year-end report that list 99 good news items such as:
“In 2016, citizens of Mumbai conducted the largest beach cleanup in history, 4,000 tons of rubbish gone; black incarceration rates in the US went down—not far enough, no, but still down; crowdfunding raised a million dollars for the kids of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile to go to college; global carbon emissions from fossil fuels did not grow at all; the number of East Asians living in extreme poverty dropped to under 4%; wild salmon spawned in the Connecticut River for the first time since the American Revolution.” (quoted from Angus Hervey’s website Future Crunch dedicated to showcasing good news from around the world.)
Mary Luti ended her Dec.31 devotional with: “…God is still speaking, still working, still loving the world from the beginning to the end.”
The challenge of the New Year’s Old Testament lesson, updated to the call to see how God is working as the God Who overpowered the powers that nailed God-in-Christ to the cross on Good Friday
with the Easter laugh of an empty tomb on Sunday.
That morning gave the Apostle Paul the confidence to respond to the worst life can do – and did do to him, with
“nothing can separate us for the love of God, in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom. 8: 39)
“Setting our souls to God’s time” – time with its blessing personalized in the promise of Jesus,
“I am with you always.”
The second blessing waits to be accepted through the words, … there is nothing better for them than to be happy and enjoy themselves as long as they live; the happiness and joy defined in the Westminster Catechism’s opening question and answer:
“What is the chief end of man? To glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”
There’s that old story of three stonecutters who were asked what they are doing. One said he was enduing a miserable job moving around stone; the second said he was working to be known as the best stonecutter in the country; the third, though covered with sweat and dust was singing and when asked what he was doing, answered, with a gleam in his eyes,
“Can’t you see, I’m building a cathedral.”
“Setting our souls to God’s time” – time with its blessing of happiness and joy realized through the attitude of working for God, or as we say, being a servant of God whose song is
:“Use me, Lord, use even me, just as you will and when and where.”
The third blessing waits to be accepted through the words: moreover, it is God’s gift that all should eat and drink
and take pleasure in all their toil.
“Pleasure in all their toil?” This blessing along with the second can be challenged for good reasons and
with strong evidence!
Slave wages for demeaning, health-breaking jobs, laid off for no reason, or no job at all, that have people drinking from a bitter cup and eating the bread of despair - all reasons for better conditions, meaningful jobs, and training to enable people to fill them, wherever work is set to run on the clocks of the world.
But, at the same time, there is “pleasure in toil” told in another story that is read as the New Year’s Day Gospel that lists everyday acts of kindness which elicited Jesus’ response, “Just as you did to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”
In Europe a new year is associated with Silvester, the Pope of Rome from 314-335, who converted and baptized Emperor Constantine, and diverted the pagan Roman winter solstice from wild parties in the darkest season with little sun, into a celebration of the coming of Jesus as Light for this world’s darkness, and in Paul’s words, for us “to lay aside the works of darkness and…put on the Lord Jesus Christ.”
…to put on the Jesus-life described in today’s Gospel, serving Christ by serving those around us.
What our world, our nation, and each of us need now- and desperately need people to do it NOW!
What Christians are meant to do, are called to do!
“Setting our souls to God’s time” time with its life-long pleasure of serving Christ in simple, everyday ways that bring some light into another person’s darkness.
New Year’s Sunday - time to set our souls to God’s time! AMEN.
…and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.”
“…in the inn.”
It is a word that playwrights have turned into children’s pageants with one of the prize lines belonging to the person who takes up the role of the innkeeper and intones, “No room!” Or as thr story is told of children acting out the story in which the boy dressed as the innkeep, followed his, "No room!" with, "No! Come back. I will find you a room!" raising a chuckle from the parents and adults.
Or the songwriter who gives a choir the dramatic chorus:
“No room! No room! only a manger bed.
Or the artist who has us visualizing the scene of a cave
or distant sheep stale.
“No room in the inn.”
What a different line, what a different chorus, what a different scene springs from that word when it is heard or read in the original language of that day when in a Bethlehem home “inn” meant GUEST ROOM – a small addition perched on the top of the roof of a peasant’s one-room first floor with a step-down stable at one end and a ledge holding carved-out bowl-like spaces for water and feed…and a cradle for the Baby Jesus,
because the rooftop guest room was taken.
Travelers and family members were crowding into the shepherds’ village to comply with the requirement to register in one’s birth town for the Roman census, and in the tradition of a Hebrew village, there were no inns or motels, the peasants’ humble homes were the inns.
And that is where God chose to stay as He took on our flesh to live our life from beginning to end,
and on to God’s new beginning.
with the poor, and meek, and lowly
lived on earth our Savior holy.