An article written by Marcus Nelson who is a Vicar in Cardiff. This is one I read the other day and was hugely encourage by, and so with his permission I am sharing it with you all for your encouragement as well:-
The storm rages on and the crisis continues to escalate; lockdown, infrastructure grinding to a halt, as Parliament closes, the death toll rises daily, news of Prince Charles’, and Boris Johnsosn infection, businesses close and armed forces walk the streets.
With all that has happened we are all no doubt thinking:
What on earth is going to happen next?
Will I die in the coming weeks? Will my loved ones die?
Will I lose my job, my home, all that I have built up over my lifetime?
Will life as we know it ever be the same again?
Is this the end of the world?
I’m sure that I’m not the only one who is pinching themselves wondering if this is all actually happening or am I just going to wake up from a grizzly nightmare? “I wish it need not have happened in my time," said Frodo Baggins the tiny hobbit in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. "So do I," said Gandalf the great wizard, "and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide.”
For many years now, film after film, series after series on Netflix and Amazon Prime has been churned out set in the apocalyptic upheaval of the end of the world- whether by alien invasion, a new ice age or a deadly plague and pandemic. Today it may feel as if we are living in the set of one of these films. With life hurtling out of control; torn apart by disease, suffering and death. It is often what people who have lived through dark days have thought.
After having been a prisoner of war for two years in a Nazi concentration camp, released to wander through the waste land of occupied France, the French thinker Jean- Paul Sartre concluded; ‘Every person is born without reason, prolongs itself out of weakness and dies by chance.’ In 1943 he published ‘Being and Nothingness.’ In which he summed up all of human life as being caught between the ‘absurdity of life’s origin and the fear of life’s extinction.’ It was a bleak picture that he painted, of all of our lives as nothing more than a cosmic joke told by a cold indifferent universe.
In times past people had been so optimistic about the future; there was no limits to the potential and progress of the human race. But it had all come crashing down and been exposed as a mirage as the gas chambers were opened up and the mass graves exhumed.
Europe never recovered, and so even right down to today, all around us we hear the utterly depressing and completely unfounded idea that there is nothing to life beyond what is immediately going on around us and that doing whatever makes us happy is all there is- trying to get as ‘good an innings as possible’ with as many relationships, job prospects, holidays, films, novels, pop songs as we can possibly cram in. It’s the message and mantra that has been peddled for over sixty years by the media and is what we as a culture assume is all that there is, that its just life!
Today, of all days we must once again say something very different, older, higher and better on behalf our LORD JESUS.
Today we need a message of hope.
Our text is taken from the Bible, it’s time to turn to it Romans 13:12
‘The night is nearly over, the day is almost here’,
Or as old King James Version more beautifully has it;
‘The night is far spent, the day is at hand’
What time is it really?
By this I don’t just mean that it is 11 am, on a Sunday morning in March 2020.
I mean the much bigger question of what time is it really in terms of the overall story of our lives?
If we were to imagine each decade of our lives as a day of the week, with us living roughly 7 days or one week, what day of the week would we be in?
It is a sobering thought; most of us are Wednesday or Thursday, others have moved on to the next Sunday or Monday!
What about the world? What time is it in world history?
Until a few weeks ago I think that we mostly imagined that it just keeps on going more or less the way it was. That it all goes round in cycles; Christmas, to the summer holidays, with a few mini- high points in between- Valentine’s Day, Easter and half terms and then builds up to Christmas all over again. This is very much the cycle of how life is set up, reflected in the layout of shops, preparing for the next ‘thing’.
Lets think about it more carefully by looking backwards.
Can you remember when you were young? I can just about remember what it was like to think like a child! All of life was ahead, was in front of me. People would always asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. It would change from year to year, but the reality was that I had all kinds of dreams and ambitions- there stood before me an infinite vista of possibilities!
I had no idea of my own limitations, that there might be things that I might not be capable of doing; one day I wanted to be an inventor, I had seen Inspector Gadget and thought it would be a lot of fun to invent robots and stretchy cars. The next year I wanted to be an airline pilot after on a trip from N.Ireland I was allowed to go into the cockpit and shown the immensely complicated but highly interesting mass of buttons.
I had no idea that the fact that I was colour blind might not mean I was especially suited to such a career, all the buttons looked the same colour, how could it matter if I pushed the green one instead of the brown one?
What did you want to be when you were a child?
It doesn’t take too long in life to rid us of our childish optimism. As we get older we gradually become more realistic! We see how GCSE’s and A levels and degree classifications limit our choices and reduce our options. And gradually we scale back our dreams and what we ever thought life could have in store for us.
At different points growing up I wanted to be a world champion table tennis player, until I met someone who was much better than I was, so I moved on to tennis, until I was beaten badly in a schools tournament, next I turned my hand to squash, before finally in the end conceding defeat and resigning myself to a cassock for the rest of my life. Can you see the scale of the down grading of my dreams!
As we go on in life and become more aware of our own limitations- the world we live in becomes smaller and our part in it more restricted, until in the end when we are older what consumes our time and attention, what we dream about can be nothing more than where to shop- Sainsbury’s or Morrison’s, or where we should bank, with Barclays or Halifax or what colour we should repaint our hallway.
As we get older, we can also speak more and more about life and who we are as things of the past. We talk about what we used to do, where we used to live, what it was like to go through the war. For us life is no longer in front, it is behind, it has already been lived, it’s not really very much about what we could or are going to do anymore, those days are gone, anything we are really going to do, we have done already, life is behind- not in front, life has been lived, it is not to be lived anymore, it is all in the past, and water under the bridge.
What is more as we go on, we can in fact increasingly fear the future and what it holds for us. It seems very bleak, all that there is to rely on is dwindling savings and pensions, all it could hold is more pain and sadness, with loved ones gone or to go, being left behind as mere memories. It may feel as if the past is all we have and even that is slipping away from us. We scrimp and save for tomorrow, with fears engendered by the past.
I could never understand why my grandparents who had lived through WW2 would always put a tiny bit of jam in the middle of the piece of toast, or only cheese in the very middle of the sandwich or one potato back in the pot for the next day! It was only when I was older that I could appreciate that they had never quite been able to shake off the mentality of rationing that they had been forced to adopt some fifty years before, that they were always fearful for the future, for where the next meal would come from, and felt that they had to hold on to as much as they could to be ready for the ‘rainy day.’
Are we really all steadily and relentlessly drawing to a close, living at the end of the week our of lives, with the last few hours of light before the clock winds up and ticks no more for us?
‘The night is nearly over, the day is almost here,
or as the KJV,
‘the night is far spent, the day is at hand’
So what time is it exactly that we are all living in now?
Christians never have to just shrug their shoulders, and say ‘that’s just life’.
Jesus tells us that it is night time! We are now living in the night, the time in which we live is one of darkness. All of our lives have been lived under the shadow and darkness of night, we have never known anything else. Now we can understand this with somethings; like pain, loss, hardship, disappointments, frustrations and broken realtionships. Even a few weeks ago we might have had to do some heavy lifting to show that even the best bits of life- family, success, holidays, friends are in fact also shrouded by the night in which we are all living. We don’t have to show that anymore. We are all painfully and abruptly being brought up to see that all of our lives are under threat, uncertain and passing away. All of human life is lived in the darkness of night, our world is out of orbit and gone wrong because of things that happened long ago.
Will this dark night that we are all living in go on forever?
No it will not!
The night in which we now live will come to an end.
Q. How far through this night are we?
‘The night is far spent’- the night is almost over!
This time will not last forever, or even for very long, in fact it is fleeting and momentary, compared with what is to come, for the night is far spent, the night is almost over.
Q. what will happen after this dark night draws to a close?
The dawn will break, the shadows flee, and a new day will begin.
The day is at hand!
Q. What is this new day?
Q. What kind of day will it be when the night that is almost over is finally ended?
It is the day that belongs to JESUS.
It is the day in which He returns from the highest heaven as king of kings and Lord of Lords to set everything right and usher in his new creation. Our Jesus is coming to get rid of everything that is evil, to remove and purge his creation of sin, death, suffering, crying and pain forever and transform it into a place of glorious and wonderful and unending life and possibility and future forever. It is not the end of the world, ‘the end is nigh’ sandwich board, but the beginning of the world as it should always have been, all things restored and set right and perfected forever. In other words it is the beginning of the holidays!
Can you remember as a child how you would be so excited the night before the summer holidays begun? Now it may be more of a scary prospect now- getting ready and paying for it all- but then you were so excited that you couldn’t sleep! I remember how we used to take the ferry over from Larne to Stranraer in Scotland and drive down through England to a different seaside town each year, the car packed, snacks all ready and unable to sleep, such was the thrill of what was going to happen the next day.
How close exactly are we to this new day, to the holidays?
The new day, the beginning of the holidays is so close that it is not 10pm the night before, nor 2am, 3am, 4am, 5am! The night is far spent! It is 6am, the day is at hand- for those who have eyes to see- it is still dark outside but the birds are beginning to stir, the sky is beginning to turn orange- red and the light is starting to break in the east with the rising sun. The day is at hand, and the holidays are just about to begin!
Since it is still night outside, should we just sleep as we wait for the new day to dawn?
No! We are to wake up!!
Verse 11, ‘and do this understanding the present time. The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.’
As we wait for the new day to dawn, the holidays to begin in the final few minutes of darkness, before all is morning, we are not to sleep blissfully unaware of all that is going on around us but to wake up!
But if we are to be awake in the last few moments of the night, what are we to do- it’s all dark outside? We are not to waste a moment in night life!
What is night life like?
It is just living for ourselves, and doing whatever makes us happy!
Verse 13, ‘let us behave decently as in the day time, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy…’
We know how people behave at night, it is almost as if wrong doing is acceptable and in its natural environment in the darkness of the night. So we throw up our hands in disbelief, ‘that is day light robbery’ in other words if it had taken place at night we would hardly have been surprised but the fact that it took place during the day is astonishing and somehow different. Or we see someone staggering down the road, at night we would think nothing of it, in the day we say, ‘my goodness it is only 10 in the morning and look at him!’ Don’t you think that if the lights were turned on all of a sudden in a night club that everyone would be so embarrassed and almost everything that was going on would stop at once.
So we are to awake, it is the last few moments of darkness and night before the dawn, we are not to sleep anymore and nor are we to live the night life, we are to; Verse 14
‘Rather clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature…’
We are awake, and are to get up, and get dressed, to clothe ourselves all ready for the coming day, not wandering about in our pyjamas! Put on Jesus Christ Himself, take Him for yourself, cover yourself with Him, His Spirit, His power, life, goodness and love.
So that we actually love people all around us; Verses 8-10,
‘Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellow man has fulfilled the law. The commandments do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not steal, do not covet and whatever other commandments there may be, are summed up in this one rule, love your neighbour as yourself. Love does no harm to its neighbour. Therefore love is the fulfilment of the law.’
It has been very moving to read back to accounts of how Christians of the past distinguished themselves in times of plagues and pandemics down history and across the world. Again and again Christians have acted with courage and love to share Jesus free salvation and forgiveness and to minister to the dying and their families. Again and again, as plagues have attacked the two places in which we set our security- our health and our wealth, it has been Christians who have risen up in the name of Jesus.
It was through their indomitable courage in such times in ancient Rome that what had been a small marginal group triumphed and the empire was brought to kneel at the feet of Christ Jesus.
Martin Luther in the early sixteenth century, urging Christians to stand at their posts and act with courage, at great personal cost to himself and his family.
C H Spurgeon visiting day and night during the cholera outbreak in London in 1854, and feeling immortality bringing many to know Jesus in their last hours.
Do you know what the plague from AD 249-62 became known as? Such was the tremendous efforts of Christians that to this day it is called the Cyprian Plague after the great bishop of Carthage, such was the impact that Christians had in those dark years.
Will this pandemic in the end be called after Christians?
Great good has been brought out of great evil in the past, it can be done again in our day, so that when all is said and done, even if as the smallest names in the list we could one day be on the same list and column as those who have gone before us. Whether through practical support for others around us or simply in prayer in our armchair we can touch the world and change it from our living room! This pandemic gives each one of us opportunities to rise up in new ways with the gifts that Jesus has given us, scattering us back into our communities and neighbourhoods where we should really have been all along.
For us who know and love Jesus Christ there stands only a small window of time in which to do all we can for him, for his glory and honour in this passing night of darkness. A man or woman can endure a great deal if they know it will come to an end and will give way to unspeakable glory that will never end.
When are we living?
We are all living during the days of the reign of the King- the last minutes of the night before JESUS comes and ushers in the holidays!
In olden times events were not measured in the way we do today precise but abstract. Today we make a great deal of the fact that we are living in March 2020 but 2020 years since what exactly? It is as if we were to find ourselves along a road and to be quibbling about whether or not we are 145 kilometres 532 meters 16 centimeters and three millimeters a long the road unaware of where exactly we are this distance from.
Today we might say that Isaiah the prophet lived in 700 BC but in the Bible Isaiah was described as living during the reign of King Uzziah and other kings. In other words the times of his life flowed out of the reign of a King .
When the king of all Kings came down and became our brother in Bethlehem of course the clocks stopped and he reset the calendar. And now we live each moment in the year of our Lord anno domini . Our lives are in the hands of JESUS, he who shares time with us and allows us to live with him in life death and beyond in resurrection glory with him forever.
Polycarp was a great second century bishop of Smyrna who mentored Irenaeus and knew John the Apostle as a boy. The account of his martyrdom is one of the greatest and most famous of early Christian history; it goes as follows.
‘Now as Polycarp was entering into the stadium there came to him a voice from heaven saying be strong and show thyself a man O Polycarp!
No one saw who it was that spoke to him but those of our brethren who were present heard the voice. And as he was brought forward the tumult became great when they heard that Polycarp was taken. And when he came near the proconsul asked him whether he was Polycarp. On his confessing that he was, the proconsul sought to persuade him to deny Christ saying…’swear and I will set thee at Liberty reproached Christ’
Polycarp declared; ‘Eighty and six years have I served him and he never did me any injury how then can I blaspheme my King and my saviour.’
The moment in which Polycarp died for Jesus Christ is by our reckoning 155AD. But the writer expressed it this way;
‘The blessed Polycarp suffered martyrdom on the second day of the month Xanthicus… He was taken by Herod, Phillip the Trallian being high priest, Statius Quadratus being proconsul but Jesus Christ being King forever to him be glory honour Majesty and an everlasting throne from generation to generation. Amen’
The days in which we live are the days of the King the days of the king of all Kings Jesus Christ out of his reign whose Kingdom will never end. The night is far spent the day is at hand he will come and renew and restore all things and usher in his new creation.
For us who do know and love Jesus, the best is not behind and slipping away from us, with a bleak and uncertain future ahead, our lives are not drawing to a close at all.
For the Christian, the one who has entrusted themselves to Jesus Christ, everything has changed, for the Christian, the greatest, the most and the best is always still ahead and still to come.
The story is told of a little girl in nineteenth century America who was very sick. Her parents called the doctor who after examination went out of the room to speak to them privately. ‘I’m afraid,’ he said, ‘that it is incurable and that your daughters best days are behind.’ As the heart broken parents went back to their daughters room, they did not know that she had overheard the conversation. Bravely she said to her parents, ‘Don’t worry, my best days are not behind, they are still ahead, for I shall see the King in His beauty.’ The little girl was a Christian. Even for the Christian who has lived a long and happy life with, children and grandchildren, a long and successful career, many accomplishments, as that person lies in the hospital bed, struggling to breath as it all seemingly draws to a close, with Jesus there is infinitely more before that person than there has been behind them, the best is still to come.
With Jesus, quite simply there is hope, not the vague wishful thinking of the naïve optimist but sure and certain hope, with complete assurance of what is to come. For Jesus our saviour has truly turned everything around. He will share his wonderful future with us, with all who take him as their own, whether he takes us to be with him first or comes with the dawn to usher in his new creation, we will live and be with him and with one another forever, real life here in the wonderful renewed creation that will always go on, and never end, of infinite possibility and opportunity.
We will find that the loved ones that have known Jesus as well, have not fallen behind into the past but have gone on ahead of us and we are reunited. We have so much to do and look forward to doing together with him! Jesus will come as the dawn and break upon the darkness as the true light of the world. He is near and coming quickly, coming soon, not waiting or tarrying any longer than he has to, he is already at the door, the beginning of the holidays is almost upon us. Without Christ there is only darkness and night, with Christ there is tomorrow better than the day before.
The difference that Jesus makes could hardly be shown better than by contrasting someone else with Sartre, someone else writing in the same year, 1943, on the other side of the channel, who had also known great sorrow and hardship in his life; his mother dying when he was young, his wife tragically dying after just a few years of marriage and writing in the midst of the horror and turmoil of the second world war.
That man was C S Lewis. Whereas without Jesus poor Sartre saw only the night, Lewis with Jesus Christ, could see the coming dawn, that all of our history is only a small wrong step, and that Christ’s coming is not the end or the last thing but the beginning of the world as it should really be as all things are set right forever.
‘It is but the wiping out of a false start in order that the world may then begin. As when a man lies down to sleep, if he finds a twisted root under his shoulder he will change his place and after that his real sleep begins. Or as a man setting foot on an island, may make a false step. He steadies himself and after that his journey begins. You would not call that steadying of himself a last thing?’ ‘
Having met Jesus, Lewis knew hope and that with Jesus the best is always still to come. He so beautifully captured it in the end of his Narnia series in the Last Battle, as Aslan the great Lion brought the children forward and said,
‘The term is over: the holidays have begun. The dream has ended, this is the morning! And as Aslan spoke, He no longer looked to them like a Lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning chapter one of the great story, which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.’
Right now each of us is living in the last few moments of the darkness of the night before the morning breaks and the shadows flee before the coming day, the holidays.
Now of all times is not the time for us as a church to retreat in fear but to stand up with courage and love in every way that we can, so that when the full story of this time is written one day, what we did will have mattered for eternity.
Samwise Gamgee in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings put it best;
“I know. It’s all wrong. By rights we shouldn’t even be here. But we are. It's like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were. And sometimes you didn't want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going, because they were holding on to something…and its worth fighting for’
What time is it?
‘The night is far spent, the day is at hand.’
No matter what is thrown at us in the weeks and months to come with JESUS the best is always still to come…
Therefore to God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit be ascribed all the glory, all the wisdom, all the honour, all the praise forever. Amen