The Vanity of Life

What is life like?

Solomon, in his Book of Wisdom (5:10-14), has tried to explain life in terms of what we commonly observe in the air and sea:

Life is like a ship that sails through the billowy water, and when it has passed no trace can be found, no track of its keel in the waves…

It is like a bird that flies through the air, no evidence of its passage is found; the light air, lashed by the beat of its pinions and pierced by the force of its rushing flight, is traversed by the movement of its wings, and afterward no sign of its coming is found there…

Or, life may be like an arrow that is shot at a target, the air, thus divided, comes together at once, so that no one knows its pathway…

It is like a thistledown carried by the wind, or like a light frost driven away by a storm, like smoke dispersed before the wind…

Solomon compares life to a rumour that passes by. Life passes like the remembrance of a guest who stays but a day…

He summarises the vanity of life saying that as soon as we are born, we cease to be…

But that is not all. Solomon adds this optimistic note to a seemingly hopeless situation: But the righteous live forever, and their reward is with the Lord. (5:15)

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Showing Mercy

Unlike love, mercy is not an emotion. One can love another person without ever expressing it openly. But mercy needs to be shown, it involves action. Unlike love which may not always be available from others, mercy can be asked for. Even a convict against whom the final judgement has been pronounced, can make an appeal for mercy to a higher authority.

“God, be merciful to me this sinner!” is the shortest but complete prayer that anyone can possibly pray. (Luke 18:13) It is echoed throughout the Book of Psalms. It is the petition with which many people approached Jesus and he heard them and cured them of their afflictions.

The concept of mercy was explained by Jesus through his parable of the unmerciful or ruthless servant. (Matthew 18:23-35) Briefly, the parable runs somewhat like this: “There was a king whose servant owed him a huge sum of money and he wanted the money back. The servant was not in a position to return it and he asked the king for time. The king was merciful and he wrote off his massive debt. However, this servant later met one of his fellow servants who happened to owe him a small debt. He grabbed his debtor by the throat, would not listen to his plea, and put him in jail. When the king learnt about this, he was greatly annoyed. He called him and said, ‘You wicked man! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ The angry king ordered that he may be made to repay his debt using coercive means.”

The lesson from this parable is that it is God’s requirement that we show mercy to others, else we will not be shown mercy by God. However, there is another positive law of reciprocity that is also in operation in God’s kingdom. As Jesus has said, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.” (Matthew 5:7)

 

 

Newness of Life

As time passes, we get older. Not only us. Our homes, our clothes, our possessions, all look older. They lose the freshness they once had. Books have to be dusted, walls painted, curtains washed. Things lose their shine with time. Brassware, silver, even the gold medals and awards we may have won, need to be polished. Gadgets wear out as they get old and require maintenance. The fragrance of flowers, the juiciness of fruits, the aroma of freshly baked bread, last but for a while.

Everything becomes stale with time and needs rest and recovery. That is why God had commanded his people to abstain from work on the seventh day and to keep that day holy. (Exodus 20:8) Not only that, every seven years, farmland was to be given rest, and no crop could be sown in that year. (Leviticus 25:4)

In today’s world, we have no time to wait or relax . Night and day make little difference to life. But in our continuous effort to remain productive, efficient, informed and presentable, we start becoming stale somewhere on the way. Aging sets in slowly but surely. We try to put up a bold appearance, and we may even succeed, but inwardly we begin to wear out.

That is where St Paul’s argument about the newness of life becomes very appealing even in this modern age. (Romans 6:4, 7:6) He says that the old law of sin and punishment is no longer applicable to those who have come to know Christ. They do not have to be bound by the oldness of the written law, but they must learn to walk in the newness of life which is in the spirit.

God Does Not Change

It is often said that change is the only constant factor in human life. As time passes, most things in this world lose their importance, become useless or serve no purpose. Things, people and events are fast forgotten. Life’s values change, lifestyle changes, our way of thinking changes all the time.

In my own life of 73 years I have seen so much change. I was born under British rule. When I was four years old, India got independence and became a democracy. Earlier we had rupees, annas and pies as currency, then came the decimal rupee-paise system. When I was small, a 1-rupee note in my pocket made me feel rich. Today, I have 2000-rupee notes in my wallet! Earlier we would measure cloth in yards, weigh in pounds or seers, buy petrol in gallons. Then came the metre, kilometre, litre and kilogram.

I remember travelling in trams and victorias in Bombay and tongas in Poona a few decades ago. Nowadays many Indian cities have metros running. When I was small, we used coal for cooking, now there is LPG. We studied in the dim light of lanterns, now there are LED lamps. Bullock carts have been replaced by tractors in the villages and bicycles by motorbikes in cities. Postcards and telegrams have made way to sms and emails. The earth was then cool, now it is warm!

In this ever-changing world, however, God remains unchanged. Thousands of years ago he had made a covenant with his chosen people, which is now known as the Old Testament. Because two thousand years ago he sent his own son to earth and a New Testament came into being between God and man. But in all this, God remained what he was. “I the Lord do not change” is what he has affirmed about himself. (Malachi 3:6) And his son “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8)

Whatever may happen to this world, God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are going to be there with us in any situation. They will protect us and solidly support us. The promises of the Bible will be fulfilled. What a reassurance we have as we step into the future and begin another new year!

Christmas Every Day

The birth of Christ is what Christians believe in, remember and celebrate every year. Of late, however, Christmas is becoming more of a non-religious event which everyone likes to join in. To help such secular participation, instead of associating it with the birth of Christ, there is a trend to regard Christmas as just a Holiday season.  The traditional Christmas tree, Christmas cakes, Santa Claus, the Star, or the decorations, are no longer confined to Christian homes but are proliferating into shopping malls and public places. The week from Christmas to New Year’s Day is becoming a week of mass celebration, enjoyment and merriment. This is of course welcome, but the history, tradition and religious background of Christmas should not be lost in the process.

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” (John 3:16) This verse from the Bible is the essence of the Christian faith and theology, it is the essence of the gospel, it is the good news. This is the reason why Christians think about and celebrate Christmas every year.

In the historical sense, Jesus Christ was born only once. He died on the cross only once. These historical events of birth and death are not going to happen again and again. But it is the experience of the followers of Christ that he who conquered death through his resurrection is alive and taking birth in their hearts. As St Paul wrote, “It is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me.” (Gal 2:20)

That is why although Christmas may be coming just once every year, we have to make it a habit of celebrating it every day in our lives. The Christian life is a daily challenge, but it also opens up a new opportunity of serving God every day. The Christian life is one in which we keep growing every day. Our aim has to be to live as Christ lived, and to present Christ to the outside world in thought, word and deed.

Christmas has to be a celebration of the spirit. It has to be Christmas every day!