What’s going to happen tomorrow? What’s going to happen next week? What’s gonna happen next month? Do you know? I’ll admit I don’t. Yet, here we are on the eve of a new year and I’m sure we each individually have some plans for the new year. I’m sure you have some personal goals or resolutions for the year 2022, and it’s good to have plans; it’s good to have goals. But do you know what will happen tomorrow, or the next day, or the day after that? We really don’t.
Go back just two years ago to right around this time in 2019. How many of you had in your plans and in your goals a vision for how to survive a lockdown of society and a virus that daily continues to upend our lives? None of us saw that coming, and, if you did, I’m tempted to call you a liar. We really don’t know what’s going to happen in our futures, and yet we are often so hasty to assume that we can know the outcomes of things. That we can predict how things will go and how they will end. We like to believe and often tell ourselves that the future is up to me. I chart my own course. I blaze my own path. And on New Year’s Eve, that’s kind of the sentiment of the evening. This is a night when we often reflect on the past year and then set a vision for our future in the new year.
In general, I think that’s a healthy thing to do on the eve of a new year. Again, it’s good to make plans; it’s good to have and set goals – to reflect. But, as you and I make plans for the next year, can we include this thought? Can we remember that we are going to die? I know that sounds strange but hear me out as we look at this lesson from God’s Word, the book of Ecclesiastes.
Whenever I read the book of Ecclesiastes, I can’t help but picture some wise, grizzled grandfather sitting in his rocking chair. And this wise man as he’s rocking there beckons us toward him and says, “Gather round, children. Listen up. Your grandpa has something to tell you.” And then this cynical, curmudgeonly old grandpa kinda just scares the living daylights out of us with stories from his real-life experiences – that’s how I feel whenever I crack open this book.
The author, supposedly Solomon, just wants to crush my spirits. I mean you’re probably familiar with the uplifting diddy that he begins and ends this book with: “Meaningless, meaningless, everything is meaningless!” But it makes sense that Solomon would say this, because, as he himself explains, he’s tried and done everything. Wisdom, possessions, riches, power, sex, he’s pursued and had it all; he has had everything “under the sun.” And none of it has brought him fulfillment. None of it according to him matters.
Which brings us to Ecclesiastes chapter 12, the last chapter, the last words of this wise but cynical grandpa who’s sitting in his rocking chair. Here at the end, the old man, he’s out of stories. His most interesting life – and it was interesting! – has been reduced to the broken and battered body that now gently sways back and forth in a chair. He’s tired, and he finds no pleasure in these last days of old age. He tells us why in verses two through five.
First, in verse two, he mentions that the sun, moon, and stars grow dark. This points to the sadness of growing old. Friends and loved ones are gone; each day seems to always be cloudy – he’s lonely and emotionally he is drained. Physically too he is weak. We see this in verse three as he describes his body, the house, with its keepers trembling and strong men stooping. His teeth are few and can barely grind down food, and his eyes are like dim windows. In verse four, the old man speaks of his poor hearing. In verse five, he mentions his fear of going out lest he fall, and how his walking is like that of a grasshopper dragging itself along. Finally, he knows what’s eventually going to happen to him, the end of verse five, “Then people go to their eternal home.” “I’m gonna die,” he says, and, having said this, the old man rocks back and forth and back and forth, and then he looks at you, and he looks at me, and he says, “You’re gonna die too.”
This may not seem like the uplifting message of comfort that you were looking for on New Year’s Eve, but Solomon did not write Ecclesiastes to bum you out. He wrote it to set you free. He wrote it to save you the wasted trip and the struggle. Solomon tells you that his life is a cautionary tale. He had “been there, done that, and gotten the t-shirt” and wants you to know that the things in this life do not bring you truth, clarity, happiness, fulfillment, or peace. Why? Again, remember, because you’re gonna die.
Depressing still though, right? Why would anyone—especially someone in the glow of youth—ever want to ponder their own death? Death is the last thing we prefer to think about, and this advice strikes us as odd. Yet, there is great value in regularly contemplating our mortality, because, in the midst of all of life’s uncertainties, death is the one certain thing. The graveyard is the common destiny of everyone and coming to grips with that truth helps put things in perspective. Life is short. We don’t get to be here all that long. So, what are we to do while we are here, and how should we plan for yet another year?
It’s this question that we bring before the old man who now seems asleep as he rocks in front of us. Listen to his answer. In verse one he says, “Remember your creator in the days of your youth.” And in verse six and seven he repeats himself, “Remember him – before the silver cord is severed and the golden bowl is broken…and the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.” Remember your creator…remember him…that’s what gives your life and my life meaning. And when the old man tells us to remember our creator, he isn’t saying that we simply remember him as some fact of history or a bit of trivia, but that we keep him constantly in our mind and in our heart. That we trust in him and live each new day, and month, and year with him and for him. And maybe we should be clear: who is this creator? Who is the “him” that the old man speaks of? It’s God. It’s Jesus, the Word made flesh. Remember him.
If you want a New Year’s resolution, here it is: remember your creator. Remember the one who made you, and sustains you, and went to a cross to save you. And why remember him? Because one day you are going to die, but when you remember him, your Savior, Jesus – when you trust in him – you will live. And that life that you live will be one of joy and peace both here, right now, and into eternity.
On this side of heaven, our joy and our happiness will always remain fragmented, fractured, and fleeting. The things we pursue will not last. The things we love will fade. But when we remember our creator, and we come near to his cross all our pursuits of earthly joy are brought to an end, as we find a new lasting joy. Because here at the cross of Christ we become the “pursued” rather than the “pursuer.” In fact, here at the cross we discover that the ultimate joy is actually not ours at all, but our Savior’s, “…who for the JOY set before him, endured that cross, scorning it’s shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” For the joy set before him, Christ pursued you to death, so that even while knowing you will one day face death, you can have joy, and with it…peace.
You see true peace in this life is not found in our ability to make everything right, to discern the future properly, or to resolve every problem. True peace is only found to the degree that we give up our ability to accomplish any of these things and rest instead in God’s absolute authority over all things. Our peace then is bound to our God who makes promises, not predictions. And his promises are infinitely better than our plans and predictions. In this life, remember that.
Because look, you don’t know what will happen tomorrow, or next week, or next month, and none of us know what’s going to happen in a year, but rather than resist that reality and struggle to somehow control this life, how about instead you remember the one thing you can know with certainty: you’re gonna die. Let’s start there. Because when you start there, it sets you free to look for ways to live. And tonight, the old man has shared with you the only way you can and will live not just now, but forever: Remember your creator. Remember him who out of dust created life and in death gave you a new life, life eternal with him through Christ Jesus, your Lord and Savior. Trust in that Savior whom you by faith know so well, and then go, eat drink and be merry. Not because tomorrow you will die, but because tomorrow you might live forever as your “spirit returns to God who gave it.”
May that certainty of life eternal found only in Christ Jesus give you the boldness to find enjoyment in God’s good, earthly gifts in the here-and-now, this year and every year. Amen.