The idea for this meditation came from a sermon by Methodist pastor, bishop, and author William Willimon (source lost).
A while back a friend of mine overheard someone say, “I don’t think Christmas is as much fun as it was when I was a kid.” There is nothing unusual about a remark like that. Most adults have probably said or thought that same thing. But my friend went on to say that what was remarkable about this comment was that the person who said it was an eleven-year old boy! How fast the childhood fun of Christmas passes.
The boy was looking back on the ‘good old days,’ and Christmas is indeed a time for memories. And the older you get, the more years you have to remember. This will be my 62nd Christmas, so there are quite a few to look back on: Christmases as a child eager for presents, as a college student eager to come home and see family, as a husband and father having fun watching the children enjoy Christmas, and now, as a grandfather watching the next generation of small children tear through the presents and sing their songs for the Christmas program. I could, like that eleven-year old boy, look back with regret and sadness on all that which is in the past and gone forever.
But I don’t. I’d rather look forward on life than back, and, I don’t really mind being 61 years old. Every stage of life has its ups and downs, its joys and frustrations, and this stage seems to be about as good and as bad as any other. So I am grateful and content to enjoy this Christmas without any sadness about all the years gone by. After all, Christmas is the time to celebrate the birth of our Lord Jesus; and when all our years have gone by and we go on to our heavenly home, we will then be with that Lord Jesus in person. What is there to regret about the passage of years when we are promised a future that will never end?
If, however, I were to register a complaint, I would say that the main thing wrong with being this age is my body. I’ve read that women experience growing older mostly as a frustrating change of appearance, and men experience growing older mostly as a frustrating loss of strength and ability. That may or may not be true, but I know I have a list of things I’ve lost, the list is growing, and it does get frustrating.
It started with my eyes. Now my glasses also have to have prisms and bi-focals and I still can’t see as good as I used to. Then, some ongoing dental problems got worse, and the dentist says there’s more trouble ahead. And then a few years ago I had to have a hip replaced, so now I have to be very careful that I do not slip on the ice, because if I were to fall just right, I could pop the new one out of place and have to go through that whole ordeal again. I could go on, but you don’t need me to tell you how this goes. I am sure many of you could put together a much longer, more interesting list. I am grateful for the good health I have, and as things start to go wrong, I know it is all a part of being 61. It’s just not my favorite part.
“All flesh is like grass,” complained the writer of Psalm 90, and grass is a pretty thin and flimsy form of life. Human beings are a bit more sturdy, but just like the grass, we are finite, mortal, and of limited endurance, having only what Shakespeare called this “frail, frail flesh.”
We are body and spirit, says the Bible. Our spirits seek understanding, love, happiness, achievement, purpose, and eternity. In our spirit we can even know God, and God seeks to know us. But the spirit comes packaged in and is dependent upon a body. This body can serve the spirit well, but it can take over and dominate all other concerns, even spiritual. No matter who you are, how intelligent, how driven, how insightful, how wise, how ambitious, or how pious you are in spirit, something as simple as a toothache can make you forget everything else, except the pain in that tooth, until you get it fixed.
The body can even destroy the spirit. A while back I heard about a young woman, a good mother, life of the party type, and a friend to everyone, who in her late 20’s was in a terrible car accident. She survived, but was left with ongoing, severe back pain. The pain medication helped, but then she became addicted to the medication. That led to a downward spiral, which led to severe depression; and that broken spirit then led to other problems with her body. In time, she gave up and died, not yet 40 years old. Our bodies, this ‘frail flesh,’ can cause tremendous grief. Our body will certainly fail when it gets old, and even before that, it may get injured or diseased; and then, the physical problems can dominate all else.
What’s more, it is the spirit that needs to tell the body what to do and how to take care of itself, but the body is not always very obedient. For example, did any of you make a decision a while back to not eat too much this holiday season? How is that going for you? Did you ever in years past make any New Year’s resolutions about exercise and diet? Have you been keeping them all? Perhaps sometimes some of us are able to manage this. But even the most disciplined know what a struggle it is to get your body to do what it is told, even if you are telling it such a simple thing as to not take that second piece of banana cream pie. (continued…)
Malachi 2:15a — Has not the one God made you? You belong to him in body and spirit.
Psalm 90:5-6 — You sweep people away in the sleep of death— they are like the new grass of the morning. In the morning it springs up new, but by evening it is dry and withered.
Matthew 26:41 — (Jesus said), “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
Teach us to number our days,
that we may gain a heart of wisdom….
May the favor of the Lord our God rest on us.