The First Sunday After Epiphany January 12, 2003
126(1-4), 133, 625, 126(5-6)
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Remember now your Creator in the days of your youth before the difficult days come and the years draw near when you say, “I have no pleasure in them”: While the sun and the light, the moon and the stars are not darkened and the clouds do not return after the rain; In the day when the keepers of the house tremble and the strong men bow down; When the grinders cease because they are few and those that look through the windows grow dim; When the doors are shut in the streets and the sound of grinding is low; When one rises up at the sound of a bird and all the daughters of music are brought low. Also they are afraid of height and of terrors in the way; When the almond tree blossoms, the grasshopper is a burden and desire fails. For man goes to his eternal home and the mourners go about the streets. Remember your Creator before the silver cord is loosed, or the golden bowl is broken, or the pitcher shattered at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the well. Then the dust will return to the earth as it was and the spirit will return to God who gave it.
Dear fellow redeemed in Jesus Christ, God’s Son:
It is not often that modern Hollywood and Old Testament Hebrew seem to have something in common, but in the first line of today’s text there is a bit of a similarity between Hollywood and Hebrew. It is not found, obviously, in the wisdom of remembering one’s Creator; but in their similar view of the word ‘youth’.
Hollywood loves “youth.” Youth is thought to be the most meaningful time of life. You have to be young to be considered beautiful, smart, and vital. To lose one’s youth is to have lost the most valuable thing in life. This is the view of the image-makers of advertising and entertainment.
But maybe we’re a little too hard on folks in our culture, because the same sort of thinking is apparent in the word translated in Ecclesiastes as “youth.” This particular word for “youth” is rooted in the word for “chosen/elect.” In other words, when our text speaks about “youth” it is not talking so much about having had only a few birthdays. It is talking about those days when you were really desirable, attractive, capable, and full of promise. “Youth” means to be in one’s prime.
So whether in Hollywood or Hebrew, youth is a quality that’s highly valued, and rightly so. Things become valuable when they are rare and hard to attain. So why is youth so precious? After all, we’re all born with it, aren’t we? Yes, but youth has a way of slipping away from us. Where do those precious days of vigor and beauty go? How may lost youth be regained? As we reflect on Solomon’s words about the course of this life, we will learn answers to both of these questions. May the Holy Spirit guide us today, as we reflect on the days of our youth I. They are stolen by time II. They are overshadowed by mortality III. They are redeemed through the Child IV. They are renewed by His Spirit
The days of our youth have a way of slipping away. They are stolen by time.
Time is a gift from God. It provides us the space in life to do things, to raise our families, to gain wisdom and wealth. With the passage of time comes the variety of change and movement. But above all, time provides that space in which God pours out a constant stream of blessings so that we can, at any time in our lives, glorify Him as our Creator. With the time allotted to us in our lives we can remember our Creator with gratitude and praise. In Psalm 119, remembering our Creator is intertwined with adhering to His law: “I remember Your name in the night, O Lord, And I keep Your law” (Psalm 119:55). In another Psalm, even the time we lie awake at night is seen as time well spent if it is spent reflecting on God’s blessings: “When I remember You on my bed, I meditate on You in the night watches. Because You have been my help, Therefore in the shadow of Your wings I will rejoice” (Psalm 63:6-7).
When Martin Luther described the blessings that our Creator has given us, he spoke of “body and life, eyes, ears and all my bodily members, my mind and all my senses” (Small Catechism, explanation to the First Article of the Apostolic Creed). These are the adornments of youth, aren’t they? Sharp vision and hearing, a quick mind, strong arms and legs. The ability to rise from a chair without sounding like popcorn popping in the microwave. In the days of your youth, you can climb stairs without wheezing. The days of your youth are those when the whole world is a frontier to be explored, a kingdom to be taken by force. The days of your youth are the days of liberty, of choices, and possibilities.
But those days don’t last long. The other gift of God, time, begins to steal them away. Time brings us to what Solomon calls “the difficult days” (literally, “the evil days”). These are the days in which we might say, “this isn’t much fun.”
Solomon continues by describing these “difficult days” in a marvelous way. On the surface, he seems to be describing a nobleman’s estate, or a royal city where age and weakness have touched everything and everyone. But all this is a figurative description of an aging body.
When Solomon says that the sun, moon, and stars—the great lights that rule the day and the night—don’t shine as brightly as they once did, he means our days aren’t as bright and exciting as they once were. The clouds and rain are the troubles of life which used to seem like just the occasional shower, but now are one gloomy day after another. The “keepers of the house” are the hands and arms once so skilled, but now clumsy and trembling. The “strong men” are the legs once straight and powerful, but now bent and feeble. The “grinders” are the teeth, many of them gone, or in modern times kept handily on the bedside table. Those that “look out the windows” are, of course, the eyes, now foggy with cataracts. The “doors in the streets” are probably the ears losing their ability to hear the usual sounds of life out in the neighborhood. Going up steps or walking down a street becomes a distressing adventure for the old, which is also when one’s hair turns white like the almond tree in full bloom.
A list like this is something that older people will quickly understand, but this text is really addressed to the young. Solomon speaks sobering words to those of us who haven’t yet felt these afflictions. They are words which serve to remind us all that we must prepare to go to our eternal home after which people will mourn our death.
It seems then, that the days of our youth are overshadowed by mortality. Why do we grow old? Why do these afflictions come? And why do we so often end up wasting our youth. In fact, many times, our carelessness, self-destructiveness, and excess tend to bring these troubles sooner.
What causes aging? Ultimately, it is sin—sin in this world, sin in our activities, and sin in our hearts. Man was not intended to grow old and die. Death was a concept foreign to God’s creation. All that Solomon describes about aging illustrates our mortality—the gloomy specter of death looming over our lives.
Solomon’s point to remember is to give glory to your Creator before death. Solomon again uses poetic pictures to describe life’s end: “the silver cord is loosed; the golden bowl is broken, the pitcher shattered; the wheel broken.” [v.6] These are all descriptions of the body losing its usefulness and value. It becomes mere dust, and the “breath of life” which God has given is taken back to Him again.
Death is a result of sin and for this we are all held accountable. Life was not ours in the beginning—it has always been God’s. Life is loaned to us along with all the equipment He gives us for living. Oh, how we squander that life, misuse it, and corrupt it when we could thank, praise, and glorify the God who gave it. Into our lives came sin. Sin brings death, and death brings us into judgement. Youth is always slipping away, and finally, it is lost entirely.
What we really need to know is what Solomon doesn’t tell us here, namely, that lost youth is a gift that can be regained. First, we are reminded that the days of our youth have been redeemed. They have been bought back for us through the Son of God who came into the world as a child.
The message of Ecclesiastes is mostly a discussion about the futility of life. But that, thank God, is not the final word of Scripture. There is much more to say. There is much to say that lifts up our hearts and renews our souls.
In today’s Gospel lesson we are presented with that amazing picture of the young Jesus in the temple. Twelve-year-old boys and girls aren’t always known for using their time around God’s word so profitably. But Jesus, even as a young boy, was very mindful of God’s Word. Why? Because He recognized it as the Word of His heavenly Father.
The Word of God was for Jesus, and for us all, God’s instruction and Law. Jesus was “born under the law” (Galatians 4:4) in order to be our Savior. He was faithful to the Law and followed it in perfect obedience.
In God’s Word, Jesus saw His calling. It was His Father’s business—a business that would claim His whole being. His Father’s business was the salvation of sinful man, the restoration of life where death had reigned, the renewing of human souls corrupted by sin. Jesus’ business was to fulfill His Father’s saving will.
Jesus used His youth so that we, who have squandered it and deserve death, could live again. Jesus used His life to God’s glory with the result that we might live in eternal glory. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9). Our lost youth, our weary souls, the troubles of aging, the terrors of death, from all these we have been redeemed by the Youth of Nazareth.
So the days of our lives have been redeemed. They have been delivered from the curse of sin and the terrors of hell. If we turn from our sins, repent of our squandered moments and opportunities, and put our trust in Jesus Christ, we have the redemption, the forgiveness of sins, and the hope of everlasting life which Jesus died to win. It is in this hope, worked by His Spirit in our hearts, that our days are renewed. They are reborn and renewed to truly live, truly love, and truly lift our days out of the gloom of old age and death.
Jesus once spoke of faith in Him as a passing out of death into life: “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life” (John 5:24).
To know Jesus, to know that we have a Savior from sin who has completely and perfectly reconciled us to God, is peace. To know that we have a God who is reconciled to us and acts only and always for the good of those who love Him is boldness. To know the love of God that led to the coming of the Savior, that caused a twelve-year-old Boy to learn how He would lay down His life for us is to know true and undying love.
The Holy Spirit brings these things to bear on our hearts, and works faith in them so that we may be renewed every day. In this way, we can enjoy true youth—youth of spirit—whether we are eight or eighty, strong or weak, just stepping out on the path of life or nearing the end of our course.
But this life is always assaulted by the devil, by the world, and by our own flesh. We need to be constantly reassured of God’s saving love. Otherwise, we are likely to forget what we really are and become discouraged with the way things appear to be. Put aside appearances and listen to the reality Paul describes: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17). Take this with you throughout your life. Every day, under Christ, is a new day with new possibilities and all the sins of the past washed away!
By the Spirit, God promises to uphold us, and carry us along the way that leads to everlasting life, no matter how hard, painful, or long it may appear. He works true youth within, where it will give life to tired old bones and broken hearts. The youth given by the Spirit puts to shame the shallow, Hollywood idea of youth: “He gives power to the weak, and to those who have no might He increases strength. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, And the young men shall utterly fall, But those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; They shall mount up with wings like eagles, They shall run and not be weary, They shall walk and not faint” (Isaiah 40:29-31).
So take heart, dear friends. Remember your Creator, now, whether you are ten years old or eighty years young! Take heart in the Gospel message of the Boy who was busy with His Father’s business. In the youth of your faith, pursue the things that will keep you young—the heavenly things that we see when we look to our Creator, to His Son whom He sent to be our Redeemer, and to the Spirit who renews our days. Amen
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.