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By Sigrid Fowler
The opposite of new is old, another thought that comes to mind as we sing “Auld Lang Syn” on January 1. Daniel has a vision of “one like a son of man,” presented to the Ancient of Days. The title gets our attention. It is made up of two opposite ideas—ancient, a word meaning longevity in unspecified, perhaps absolute, terms and a word denoting the brief timespan of one twenty-four-hour period, the unit of a human life. The contrast is vivid and can’t have beencontrived at random or without thought. To speak of God as the Ancient of Days brings together in one title two facts we know—that God isn’t limited by time and paradoxically, that God is also omnipresent, as theologians say—present everywhere, even in the seconds and minutes of each single day in one person’s experience. Quite a thought for the new year, one to help us get started—maybe with encouragementand peace.
“One aspect of God’s nature that fascinates and comforts us is his eternity,” says Ralph F. Wilson, writing about the eternal God (http://www.jesuswalk.com/names-god/3_eternal.htm). The striking statement isn’t simple to explain. How the eternal can be comforting I’m not sure I know, but I get the point Wilson is making. Things bigger or more powerful or beyond us in asignificant way— things like knowing everything or being called the Eternal—can be reassuring, especially if they’re not threatening. Things Jesus said about the Father illustrate thistruth. For example: “Aren’t two sparrows sold for a cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father” (Matt 10: 29). Or this: “Your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matt 6: 8b).
These aren’t just the teachings of Jesus. In the psalms, we find similar lines: “He gives names to all the stars and calls them all by name” (Ps 147: 4). Other psalms praise the God who is eternal. Psalm 102: 12 is an example: “But you, O Lord, abide forever, /And your name to all generations.” Psalm 90 declares: “For a thousand years in your sight / Are like yesterday when it passes by, / Or as a watch in the night.” When the writer of Psalm 121 says, “He that watches Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps” (Ps 121: 4a), he or she has zeroed in on this comforting and paradoxical aspect of God’s nature—i.e., his eternal but always-present existence and his loving concern. It’s nice to know that somebody has our back—Somebody, in fact. Call that Somebody Jesus, who is one with the Father and the Spirit, and you’ll find the comfort a bit more accessible. We’re being looked after—whatever the time, whatever the place—and the person giving his attention to us is also powerful.
John reported the revelation of Jesus. His writing makes upthe last book of the Bible—for example a moment when Jesus, now revealed in glory, now identifies himself with a new name: “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end” (Rev 22: 13). Notice the same paradoxical quality in this title, “the beginning and the end” make up one name, the name of one person—again, the contrast of present and foreverseen together in one person. Christ is victorious, a conqueror in John’s report, but when we remember the gospels, we know he isn’t threatening. He’s approachable, welcoming, available. He was so busy healing and teaching he couldn’t even eat, and his family worried about his health. They even thought he was crazy! (Mark 3: 20-21). At one point, when children were brought to Jesus, the disciples tried to shoo them away. Jesus rebuked the fussy disciples, not the parents who were bringing their children (Matt 19: 13-14), and welcomed them all.
Jesus’ own words show how one of eternal presence and power can be comforting and comfortable, even in the minutes of our particular days: “Come to me,” he said, “all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you shall find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matt 11: 28-30). This yoke? Maybe it’s like a sheep carried on the shoulders of a shepherd. A sheep looks like a yokeif it’s on the shoulders, maybe the shoulders of that happyshepherd excitedly yelling to everyone he’s found his sheep. One of those quotable John F. Kennedy sayings comes to mind. He was young, being cautioned about the weight he was carrying. He said, “He’s not heavy, he’s my brother.” We all know aboutworking very hard at something that involves a person we care about. It’s no task at all. Is this what Jesus meant? Don’t forget that the one who says, “My yoke is easy” is God the Son, the Son of Man who came after us. He’s offering to exchange our burdensfor his lighter one. If his burden is concern driven and infused bylove, indeed it is easy.
Ps 38: 4 calls sin a burden. The one of human appearance, who is presented to the Ancient of Days to receive an eternalkingdom (Dan 7: 13-14) is the eternal Son of Man, who welcomes and loves us. He is the Good Shepherd. His strong shoulders can take your burden. They carried a cross.