In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
I am sure that people have always had calendars of one sort or another. Nobody can ever really live as if every day were just a carbon copy of the one before it, as the one after it would also be. Humans have time as a cycle built into us, both in our days and in our years. Night to day to night, built up into weeks and months and years; light to dark and back to light again; life to death to life again. How any given person or civilization might deal with those facts has certainly changed, based in various feasts and festivals, some holy, some profane, and some evil. But for the person or people who believed Yahweh in Israel, those who believe the Trinity in all nations, tribes, languages, and peoples, this passing of time has never been an arbitrary fact of life. It has never been, and it cannot be, a despairing lamentation of the past or a fatalistic resignation to the future; it cannot fall to either of those temptations because it knows one thing: “Lord, you have been our dwelling place, our refuge, in all generations…from everlasting to everlasting you are God” (Psalm 90:1, 2).
But this is not obvious. It is not obvious, looking around us at the state of the world, at the state of our families, at the state of our lives, that God is God and that He is our refuge in this world. It is not obvious when we consider the shortness of our lives and that death comes to each of us, without exception. It is not obvious that God is God and that He is our refuge when we see so much pain and suffering associated with death. But in this Psalm—the only one attributed to Moses—we learn to view death rightly. We see it not simply as a part of being human, as if being human meant, by definition, dying. We see it not as a natural part of life, nor as something to accept and simply get on with our own lives, until we ourselves meet death. Moses doesn’t know of any death that is not the sign of God’s wrath and punishment of sin. Moses hears the terrible consequence spoken over the head of Adam: “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19). He sees the carrying-out of God’s warning to Adam: “…of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (2:17). Death is not neutral, and it is certainly not a friend. Each second, each minute, each hour that ticks from the clock of our lives should be a reminder that we live our lives under the threat of death—and we deserve it fully. “You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your presence. For all our days pass away under your wrath; we bring our years to an end like a sigh” (Psalm 90:8-9).
“So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom,” Moses prays (90:12). The fear of Yahweh is the beginning of wisdom. To know that death is always a result of sin, and the sin is ours, is to fear the God who is our righteous Judge. But that is only the beginning of wisdom. There is a cry for mercy that comes from the one who knows God’s just judgment on sinners. “Return, O Yahweh! How long? Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad…for as many days as you have afflicted us, and for as many years as we have seen evil” (90:13-15). Moses knew well the results of sin, but he knew just as well what sorts of things Yahweh does in the morning. “When Pharaoh drew near, the people of Israel lifted up their eyes, and behold, the Egyptians were marching after them, and they feared greatly. And the people of Israel cried out to Yahweh. They said to Moses, ‘Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness?’… And Moses said to the people, ‘Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of Yahweh, which He will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. Yahweh will fight for you, and you have only to be silent’” (Exodus 14:10-11, 13-14).
As the people crossed between the walls of the Sea, and Pharaoh and his armies followed them in, “in the morning watch Yahweh in the pillar of fire and of cloud looked down on the Egyptian forces and threw the Egyptian forces into a panic, clogging their chariot wheels so that they drove heavily…” and when Moses stretched out his staff again, as Yahweh told him, “the sea returned to its normal course when the morning appeared” (Exodus 14:24-25, 27). In the morning, certain death averted. In the morning, enemies swallowed by the sea. In the morning, salvation for the people of God. In the morning, very early in the morning (Mark 16:2; Luke 24:1; John 20:1), there is an empty tomb, and resurrection, and the beginning of a Life that never ends.
And so it is for you. Tonight, as you consider the end of the day, the end of the year, the end of your life, the end of the world; as you consider darkness and night and death; look and see: the salvation of God always comes in the morning. For Israel, for Jesus, for you. Death cannot have the last word, not for your life and not for the whole creation. “Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.” All these days, all these years, filled with reminders of sin and death; but morning is coming. Empty tombs, millions of them, are coming. Resurrection, and Life everlasting. In the morning of your life in Christ, He drowned your enemies in the sea of baptism tied to His death and resurrection, and now He feeds you with the manna of His Body and Blood, until the morning when the glad new year begins, once and for all, in the Land of God’s eternal Promise.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 12/29/16