Sermon Preached on the Eve of the Circumcision and Name of Jesus, December 31, 2009.
Seventeen years ago we came to Clarksville. We moved into our home on January 2. It was cold and the heat never got above 65 degrees. We called the installer and he said he would be there the next day. He never came. We called again and he said he would be right there. He never came. Finally I insisted that he had to come that very minute and eventually he did come. When I told this story I was reminded that in the South time is a little looser than up North. A different understanding of time.
I spent an Easter with a friend. Some of his family were Russian Orthodox and this year Easter coincided on both calendars. I had been to an Orthodox liturgy before but this time I went several days in a row. Growing up my Dad thought us late if we got there later than a half hour before the service began. In the Orthodox liturgy, people move in and out all throughout the liturgy – filtering in until the Gospel reading. As a Lutheran used to promptness, I was shocked. A different understanding of time.
You have undoubtedly been in a doctor’s waiting room, arriving early for your 10 am appointment only to find yourself ushered into the examination room at 12:15 pm. A different understanding of time.
One day is as a thousand years and a thousand years is as one day, says the Lord in Holy Scripture – Old and New Testament. What does this mean? Is God as oblivious to time as the repairman I mentioned? Is He as casual about time as those people who wandered into the Orthodox liturgy so late into the service? Is God unaware of the constrictions on our time so that we have to wait upon God like we do for the doctor? Does God not understand what it means to live in a world where death has cast its long, dark shadow over us and time – like we do? Does God not see how important promptness is to a people who value every moment because death makes our time so very fragile? Is God so isolated from time’s restrictions that make us compact so much into so little time?
First of all we need to remember. For those watching the year pass away and a new one come, are also here to remember Him who was born in our flesh and blood, who shed His blood first on the day of His circumcision and who was given the wonderful name of promise on this 8th day: Jesus (who will save His people from their sins). This is the God who came in flesh and blood, under the law, to know exactly what we know about a world living in death’s shadow, where time is short and each moment precious, where pain and sorrow are a part of each and every day of life. He came to experience first hand all that time became because of sin and death and yet to offer us the hope of redemption from sin’s curse and freedom from death’s captivity.
We are here tonight, watching time march on, because Jesus Christ was born in our flesh and blood to keep all righteousness for us, to live in our world of sin, under the constraints of the Law, and within the framework of time’s precious gift. He has come to know what we know... but also so that we might know what He knows.
That there is another side to time – not only the march of time that moves the hands of the watch or makes the calendar flip to another month or another year. No, there is more. Jesus Christ has come to teach us heaven’s vision of time, where not only the passing moments are important but the right moment, the fullness of time matters. He teaches us to let go of our preoccupation with the moment and to hold on to that fullness of time when all comes together – not for a moment of magic but for the appointed promise to be fulfilled, when finally the past and future might intersect in the one who fulfills the strained limitations of our mortality so that we might taste the limitless grace of immortality. God learns our ways, yes, but we also learn from Him the way of heaven, of time that does not march on, of eternity that fills the moment and makes it last forever.
God has come to keep the Law, to fulfill all righteousness, to pay for sin, and to lead us past death to the life where time no longer matters. We don’t have to look behind us to see if our past is still there to accuse us. Jesus has let it go. We don’t have to see in the present all the promises of God fulfilled. His Word is enough for us to know today and we rest everything in the hands of Him who does not disappoint us. We don’t have to have every prayer answered right now. We don’t have to see every promise fulfilled. We have God’s promise and that is enough. Jesus learned the strained limitations of our mortality so that we might learn from Him the unlimited grace of eternity, where all things will come because God has promised... and this is enough for us. This is enough to hold on to while time still presses, while sin still afflicts us, and while death is still the waiting door we must pass through before we know the fullness of eternity.
We don’t have to see everything – we just need to see Jesus. We don’t have to have every promise and prayer answered before our eyes, we just need to hold on to the Savior who is promise fulfilled and the answer to every prayer. Time marches on for everyone but for Him who has died and rose again. Time marches on for everyone but the God who holds our time in the palm of His hand. Because He holds our time in His hands, we know peace. We know hope amid uncertainty. We know joy amid our sorrows. We know courage in our struggles even when we cannot see their ending.
Though we know this only by faith, it is enough. One day we too will be able to say “one day is as a thousand years.” One day we will be free from every constraint of time. When our lives are no longer constrained by the ever present watch on our wrists. When our lives are no longer marked with the sadness of that which we leave behind every time we tear off another calendar page. When we no longer look into the future with worry or concern. Until that day we are not left without hope or consolation. Until that day we remain alert, knowing that time does not march on aimlessly but toward God’s appointed end. On that day, He who came to know all that we carry in a mortal life never long enough or happy enough or easy enough, He will give to us that immortal life that knows no end, the contentment that fills us with joy, and the ease of a life without distraction from the goodness of the Lord whose steadfast love endures forever.
We are not optimists. We are realists. And that which is most real of all is Jesus Christ. I remember once sitting with a family watching the last moments of their patriarch’s life here on earth. He did not respond to their voices. There was no indication that he could hear them anymore. It was time to say good bye. But no one wanted to admit it. That is what sin has done to us. It has stolen our time, stolen our comfort, stolen our joy. We thought that we were finding freedom in Eden but it turned out to be the worst bondage of all. We are here tonight because Christ has come to restore what sin took from us, to give back to us what death had stolen, and to teach us peace and contentment again. His first infant blood was shed in circumcision and the name of promise was placed upon the Child who in the fullness of time came to redeem us from our captivity to the moment. He learned what it was like to live in our world of sin and death and He taught us the time that is full of grace and truth and hope. He marches us through our days, through time itself, toward the destiny He has prepared for us. This is what we hold on to today while we head toward His eternal tomorrow. God has redeemed time, not by giving us more of today, but by giving us the eternal tomorrow only Jesus could win... and it began by the name of promise assigned to Him and the first blood shed to redeem us.