“This is the day which the Lord has made;
Let us rejoice and be glad in it.”
When Bertel Thorvaldsen, the renowned Danish sculptor, was asked which of his statues was his best, he replied, “The next one!” Never content to rest upon his laurels, he sought to improve. He fervently believed his best achievements were still ahead. And that’s not a bad attitude for each of us to maintain as we stand at the brink of a new year. “Which year of your life is the best?” Oh, to be sure, the next one! This next one!
By now most of us own a new calendar for the new century. Bright, crisp. It is not creased or dog-eared. There are no jelly stains or coffee spills upon it. It, as yet, is unmarked by sorrows, failure, disappointments. The year 2000 only holds out hope and opportunity!
In case you’re wondering, this is not your traditional New Years resolution sermon. They tend to go in one year and out the other. As Oscar Wilde put it, “Good resolutions are simple checks men write on a bank where they have no account.”
So today let’s switch from resolution to reality, from mere self-appointed change to divine transformation. And where do we go to find such?
The month of January is named after the Roman mythological character Janus, a man with two faces who could see both the past and the future at the same time. Today, we stand in the month of January. Shall we look back and congratulate ourselves on our bright conquests, or perhaps castigate ourselves for our abysmal failures? Or do we look ahead to a future bright as the promises of God? Or shall we look to the present and live the now? For answers we turn to Psalm 118:24, a very well known song, but not so well understood, and even more poorly lived.
“This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it,” the psalmist sings. Notice two key words: “This . . . day . . . ” And immediately we bump into several problems.
When we speak of living “this day” we can’t seem to let go of “that day”— the past. The truth is, we never really get a new year for we typically carry our old years along with us. Today is like a dusty, well-used chalk board that we try to write something new on. The past simply obscures the present. Old grudges, past hurts. Years old failures. Bad habits. Or, the now can be crowded away, not by past hurts, but by past joys! Nostalgia for spent youth, an incredible year of business blessings, a time of revivalistic fervor— why, these can keep us looking over our shoulder wistfully.
An interesting picture of this is found in the Old Testament Exodus story. The children of Israel were starving in the wilderness when the Lord promised to give them bread from heaven, manna in
the morning. And so He did. But there was one provision. Each was to gather only enough for each day. There was to be no hoarding, no distrust among them that the morrow wouldn’t bring its own bread. Yet in this Israel proved faithless, for some of her people tried to hoard. And the manna bred worms and turned foul. Isn’t that how it is when we try to live on yesterday’s blessing today?
Will Rodgers used to say, “We shouldn’t let yesterday eat up too much of today.”
So, this is the day! Right now. Not then. Not yesterday. Now! Yet in trying to live now we not only have to fight our way free of the past, we also have to escape the clutches of the future.
Bette Howland wrote, “For a long time it seemed to me that real life was about to begin, but there was always some obstacle in the way. Something had to be got through first, some unfinished business, time still to be served, a debt to be paid. Then life would begin. At last it dawned on me that these obstacles were my life.” Does that sound familiar? “I’ll be happy just as soon as . . . ” “When I get that promotion or turn 16 or get married or get divorced or something or another, then life will begin to happen!”
A friend of mine wrote me a letter from graduate school. He is in the midst of a mid-life career change, gone back for a masters, and eventually a Ph.D. He writes, “So I have put my life on hold. My intentions right now are to get into a doctoral program, get though, and get on with life.”
Yet the psalmist says we must escape from nostalgia on the one hand and wishing our lives away on the other. All this so we can live “this day!” now.
It is easy to become so goal oriented we forget to enjoy the steps along the way. We’ve developed a false theology of arriving, not striving.
For instance, while having a first cup of coffee and sitting across from your wife in the morning, how many of us aren’t there? We’re actually already worrying over that meeting in the afternoon. But such a lifestyle misses now. It misses the value of this present moment and getting consumed in it.
“This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” Take hold of now and make it a peak experience!
We Twentieth Century goal oriented yuppies have learned to live from a deficit motivational base. Inside we’re always churning and muttering to ourselves, “Now is no good. I lack something. It’s better there. Right now I’m miserable. But when I get to the top things will be perfect.” Yet life is what happens all along the way. Life is but a long string of nows!
I talked with a teenaged lad who was bagging my groceries. He looked thoroughly bored, exuded a bad attitude. So I inquired, “Is something wrong?” “Life is what’s wrong. This crummy job, second shift, my boss, my social life. If I had a better job I’d be happier.” There you find it again. And I fear I find way too much of that boy in me. But with Christ’s help I’m learning not to look for happiness but to be happy. I’m learning that being is more important than doing. I’m leaning to do the best I can now and let tomorrow take care of itself. I’m learning to quit trying to get there and start living here.
I once stood by the bed of a dying friend. The man, age 72, said to me, “Stephen, I never figured out what I was living for. Somehow it seemed happiness, life, was always just over the next hill. And suddenly my life is over.”
Maslov, the psychologist confessed, “Consumed with trying to get there, I missed too many of my todays.” And here in the Psalms, God the Lord calls us from all of this to now. “This! This is the day!” The past is a canceled check. The future is a blank check. Now is all we have, all that is promised.
God Made It
Passing on from “this being the day,” notice what the text says next. “This is the day that the Lord has made.” Yes, God made this day. It has His finger prints all over it. Today is divine, handmade, tailored just for you.
In John 11:17 following there is a funny story about all of this. Jesus’ friend Lazarus has died. Christ visits the funeral, and Martha fusses at Him, “Lord, if you’d have been here my brother wouldn’t have died.” Jesus tells her, “Your brother will rise again!” And Martha complains, “Oh, sure, I know he’ll rise again sometime in the future.” Hear that? Martha was bouncing between the past— “If you’d been here” — and the future— “Sure, he’ll rise in the last day.” But Jesus shows her this is the day and God is there with all it takes to make it divine. “I am . . . ” Christ says. Not “I was” or “I will be,” but, “I am! I am the resurrection and the life!” And He called for Lazarus to come forth. And he does!
In this day that God has made for you— a day with opportunities, character building experiences, joys, sorrows, achievement and failures, God wants to be the great “I Am” in your relationships, in your single life, in your church, in your emotions.
World War II was over and Harvey Milton moved to Southside, Virginia, to open a feed and seed farm store. He married and settled into small town living. Then his father got sick. An entrepreneur bought the land next to his home and built a noisy roller skating rink. To top it all off, one night his business burned. Harvey thought the world had come to an end. But, “This is the day that the Lord has made.” The roller rink went bankrupt, Harvey bought it, moved his store into it, and, later, when his invalid father had to move in with him, Harvey had him right next door so he could work and still check on his father.
Such adventures in God’s sovereignty teaches us that God made the day. No moment is out of the crafting hand of the Highest. The “I Am’s” fingers shape our days.
Oh, to be sure, I might climb no mountain today. I might not publish a best seller, get married, conquer some disease, pay off my mortgage or get some incredible promotion, but my breakfast is good, the birds are singing, and we’re together. And this is enough.
Be In It!
So far, the text gives us two declarative statements, two facts. “This is the day.” And, “God has made it.” Now the text makes a command, “Be Glad in it.”
There is an old comedy series of films called, The Keystone Cops. They try to drive an old A-model squad car to the scene of a crime. While they stand around smoking, one cop cranks the car and it takes off down the street without him. The cops chase it, and somehow never quite get into the driver’s seat. They are always out in front or falling behind, or tumbling in and out of the automobile. And, of a truth, don’t so many of us live like that? Behind. Ahead. Falling down in the now.
“Be in it,” God commands in the text. Not trying to catch up or running ahead. Now. Here. You and the I Am!
I’ve just read a fine book called, From Beirut to Jerusalem by Thomas Friedman. He’s a journalist who has lived ten years in the Mideast. And more than anyone I’ve ever read he explains why the Mideast is like it is what with all its religion, car bombs, rock throwing, settlers, infidels and gridlocked governments. What you basically have is a future buried by the past, old conflicts being refought in the now. Yesterday eating up too much of today.
Jesus calls us to treat all our yesterdays with grace, to liberally forgive and walk out of our past to right now. This is the day. God has made it especially for you. Be in it. Right in the driver’s seat with the great I Am! And He even tells us how. “With rejoicing and gladness.” Just listen to the text again: “This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”
The Hebrew word for “rejoice” is “gheel.” It translates, “to spin around under excessive emotion.” If you’ve ever seen what a high schooler does when they receive a letter of acceptance to their first choice college then you understand this dance step of gladness.
So, celebrate this day. God made it. Be in it with rejoicing! Enter into this present moment by fully living it, by totally devouring the meat of it.
This year, each morning when you rise, pray, “Lord, this is the beginning of a new day. It is your gift to me to use as I will. I can waste it or use it for good. But what I do today is important because I’m exchanging a day of my life for it. When tomorrow comes this day will be gone forever, leaving in its place something I have traded for it. I want it to be gain, not loss, Lord; good, not evil; success, not failure, so that I shall not regret the price I paid for it. Let me live each moment fully, Lord, knowing that the future is a whole string of nows you’ve made.”
I close with a favorite poem of mine, called, Ain’t it fine today!
“Sure, this world is full of trouble–
I ain’t said it ain’t.
Lord! I’ve had enough, an’ double,
Reason for complaint.
Rain and storm have come to fret me,
Skies were often gray;
Thorns and brambles have beset me on the road,
Ain’t it fine today!”
“What’s the use of always weepin’,
Makin’ trouble last?
What’s the use of always keepin’
Thinkin’ of the past?
Each must have his tribulation,
Water with his wine
Life, it ain’t no celebration.
Trouble? I’ve had mine–
But today is fine.”
“It’s today that I’m a livin’,
Not a month ago,
Havin’, losin’, takin’, givin’
As time wills it so.
Yesterday a cloud of sorrow
Fell across the way;
It may rain again tomorrow,
It may rain– but, say,
Ain’t it fine today!”
Lord Jesus, call me to this moment. Amen!