Saturday, January 01, 2011

Words for the Day

Last year about this time, I wrote a blogpost about my Scripture reading regimen. As I noted then, it's not a Read-the-Bible-in-a-Year plan. So any particular pericope can fall on any given day.

Well, this morning's readings were strikingly appropriate for New Year's Day . . . unless you insist that "appropriate" mean "full of cheer."

First there was Psalm 90, the one I call the "Our God, Our Help in Ages Past" psalm.  This "Prayer of Moses, the Man of God," speaks eloquently of the passage of time and the transience of this life, compared with the solid eternity of Almighty God:

1 Lord, you have been our dwelling place
throughout all generations.
2 Before the mountains were born
or you brought forth the earth and the world,
from everlasting to everlasting you are God.

3 You turn men back to dust,
saying, “Return to dust, O sons of men.”
4 For a thousand years in your sight
are like a day that has just gone by,
or like a watch in the night.
5 You sweep men away in the sleep of death;
they are like the new grass of the morning—
6 though in the morning it springs up new,
by evening it is dry and withered.

7 We are consumed by your anger
and terrified by your indignation.
8 You have set our iniquities before you,
our secret sins in the light of your presence.
9 All our days pass away under your wrath;
we finish our years with a moan.
10 The length of our days is seventy years—
or eighty, if we have the strength;
yet their span is but trouble and sorrow,
for they quickly pass, and we fly away.

11 Who knows the power of your anger?
For your wrath is as great as the fear that is due you.
12 Teach us to number our days aright,
that we may gain a heart of wisdom.

13 Relent, O LORD! How long will it be?
Have compassion on your servants.
14 Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love,
that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.
15 Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us,
for as many years as we have seen trouble.
16 May your deeds be shown to your servants,
your splendor to their children.

17 May the favor of the Lord our God rest upon us;
establish the work of our hands for us—
yes, establish the work of our hands.*

Yes, Lord, we do pray for days of gladness in 2011.  And that you will give us work to do and establish it.  But most of all, that you will bring us to see that you are our dwelling place, our satisfaction, and our wisdom.  But do you have to remind us of our weakness and our sin?  You mean we're not capable of doing everything right in this new year, if we try really hard?

Then, today, it was time to begin Ecclesiastes.  Not my favorite book.  And in the first chapter, Solomon says:

1 The words of the Teacher, son of David, king in Jerusalem:

2 “Meaningless! Meaningless!”

says the Teacher.
“Utterly meaningless!
Everything is meaningless.”

3 What does man gain from all his labor

at which he toils under the sun?
4 Generations come and generations go,
but the earth remains forever.
5 The sun rises and the sun sets,
and hurries back to where it rises.
6 The wind blows to the south
and turns to the north;
round and round it goes,
ever returning on its course.
7 All streams flow into the sea,
yet the sea is never full.
To the place the streams come from,
there they return again.
8 All things are wearisome,
more than one can say.

The eye never has enough of seeing,
nor the ear its fill of hearing.
9 What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;

there is nothing new under the sun.
10 Is there anything of which one can say,
“Look! This is something new”?
It was here already, long ago;
it was here before our time.
11 There is no remembrance of men of old,
and even those who are yet to come
will not be remembered
by those who follow.

What?  Is it indeed inevitable that "auld acquaintance [should] be forgot/ And never brought to mind"?  Is the work of our hands ultimately futile?  Does the inevitable round of the years mean we're wasting our time to try to do anything new, because it's all been done before and it's all equally meaningless in this life under the sun?

But do I have to life my life "under the sun"?  What if I make a concentrated effort to dedicate myself in 2011 to live "under God" instead?  Can I do that?

Maybe Romans 5:12-21 has an answer:

5:12 Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned— 13 for before the law was given, sin was in the world. But sin is not taken into account when there is no law. 14 Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who was a pattern of the one to come.

15 But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! 16 Again, the gift of God is not like the result of the one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification. 17 For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.

18 Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men. 19 For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.

20 The law was added so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, 21 so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Yes, truly, death, decay, and futility did enter the world through Adam.  As his descendants we're all locked onto and broken by the wheel of Time.  But Solomon, O king, there is something New under the sun.  And that is the irruption of Jesus Christ the Son of God into this meaningless world.  Jesus has brought grace, brought life, brought righteousness, brought meaning.  The iniquities Moses speaks of in Psalm 90 are forgiven and wiped away in Christ.

O Lord my God, in this year and all years may we reign with you in life through your abundant gift of righteousness and grace, come to us through your Son, Jesus Christ.  In him and to his glory, establish the work of our hands, O God, establish the work of our hands!

*All passages from The Holy Bible, New International Version, 1984

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