By Commissioner Peter H. Chang –
The book of Ecclesiastes seems to have been slipped into our Bibles when no theologian was looking. Someone must have thought up the name “Ecclesiastes” to give it some ecclesiastical respectability, for the book has nothing to say about the great themes of creation and redemption, and does nothing to inspire the reader with faith and hope. The author calls himself The Preacher, with his first words as his text: “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity.” He goes on to underline the futility of human life in the endless cycling of the years: “What does man gain by all his labor and his toil here under the sun? Generations come and generations go, while the earth endures forever.” This sounds more like Buddhism than biblical faith. . . but it gets worse! He draws the conclusion that the only thing to do is to snatch whatever pleasure you can during your brief days on earth. “So I commend enjoyment,” he says, “since there is nothing good for a man to do here but to eat and to drink and to enjoy himself.”
There is some little encouragement in the words “whatever task lies to your hand, do it with all your might” but then it is all spoiled by the addition of “because in Sheol, for which you are bound, there is neither doing nor thinking, neither understanding nor wisdom.”
But then we come to one of these flashes of inspiration that redeems this book from its somewhat jaundiced and cynical mood. At this point it doesn’t matter to me what the old writer had in mind or with what feeble philosophy of an endless, meaningless cycle of existence he may have been infected. I hear these words vibrating with the whole story of the dealings of God with his people, lit with the glory of the Christian Gospel. “He has made everything beautiful in its time.”
These unexpected words from the chilly book of Ecclesiastes could, in fact, be inscribed across the Gospel story. As we make our pilgrimage through the Christian Year, following Jesus from Bethlehem to Nazareth; from the Sea of Galilee to Jerusalem; from Calvary to the Easter Garden; through laughter and tears, friendship and hostility, success and failure, ecstasy and agony, we have to say in the end: “God has made everything beautiful in its time.”
Do we have this confidence that “God has made everything beautiful in its time?” We have a way of marking off the times, the seasons, those occasions that have been especially good or else we look ahead to what must be good times coming. The best year of our life may have been way back in our youth or perhaps it is still just round the corner. In our modern culture, usually somewhere in our teens or twenties is when we think God made everything really beautiful. Once that is over, then, is there nothing left but memories and a frantic effort to stave off what many think is the ugliness of age?
The Bible offers no such picture! In its perspective there is no one age that arrogates the title of beautiful. Saul, on his accession to the throne of Israel was “a choice young man,” yet from the Old Testament we learn he was attributed the symbolic age of 365. “Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him.” In the Christmas story it is not only the infant Jesus and his young mother about whom the beauty shines; for there was the aged Simeon who took the Child in his arms “and blessed God, saying, ‘Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: for mine eyes have seen thy salvation.'”
Surely we are being told that every year is meant to be the “best year of our lives,” and the Christian should greet each new year with that conviction. We discover how, indeed, each successive stage on our journey brings its own delights. By the grace of God we discover how even our trials and agonies can be marked by beauty – even the beauty of the Cross. There is a special beauty about a marriage, and yet does not a funeral also have a unique and unforgettable beauty? God makes everything beautiful in its time.
How good it is to enter the new year gathered together in his Name, for here we are offered the beauty of the present moment and the living Christ. Yes, the past is here as we remember “the night on which he was betrayed,” but our past is transfigured by God’s mercy and forgiveness. The future is here as we realize that we shall go on sharing in this feast and fellowship “until he come.”
But it is now that we have the joy of receiving Christ, with all his gifts, knowing that the beauty of the Lord our God is upon us. To receive him now, and to journey through this year with Him, is to be enabled to obey one of the hardest of all his commandments: “Do not be anxious about tomorrow” “He has made everything beautiful in its time.”
“Lord, as we commit our lives to you now, help us to realize that confidence that you have made all things beautiful in their time, so send us into a new year with trust and hope and joy, through Christ, our Lord.”