I Have Labored in VainPosted: January 19, 2014
I Have Labored in Vain
TAKING DOWN THE CHRISTMAS TREE
Taking down the Christmas tree is always a time for reflection. This year since we’ve invited you all to the Fellowship of the Grape and Hops at our house we got started on taking the tree down earlier than usual. Things are so busy for us before Christmas we don’t usually get the tree up until the kids show up maybe three of four days before Christmas, so we are in no hurry to take it down. Beth this year left the tree lights on from two days before Christmas until Epiphany. A number of years ago in Monee our lives were so shredded up that we didn’t get the Christmas tree down until just before Easter. Of course Easter came early that year, but I was tempted just to leave it up until the following Christmas – sort of have a year round Christmas tree.
EGG NOG & ROAST BEEF
I suppose it is a measure of where we still are as a family that none of the kids have asked to take any of their special ornaments to their own houses. Decorations with the names of all of our children are still on our tree. Of course most of our kids still make the attempt to come home for Christmas. After all Dad makes the eggnog (Betty Barnstead the organist in Galesburg her special recipe), roast beef and Yorkshire pudding. We tend to collect traditions and recipes over the years centered around Christmas.
As I was taking Christmas ornaments off of the tree there were a couple of them I wrapped and put away with special care. There is a very old and now ratty looking cross made of purple and gold beads that has hung on Christmas Trees since before a time when I could remember. One of my very first memories of Christmas is seeing that cross illuminated by an orange light. That ornament was hanging on the tree when I opened the red fire engine, and when I tripped over the bicycle in the living room at 4 a.m. on Christmas morning, because I was too excited to sleep. Maybe you have memories like that. And then there are the two ornaments that are left from the decorations that Jeff Kenney designed and we made in Galesburg as a fund raiser with the Youth Group. Jeff Kenney was a young graphic artist who designed and silk screened a Santa and a toy, and then we cut out Styrofoam forms to glue the pictures upon. We had several more of these Youth Group ornaments at one point but they were chewed up by various dogs and cats.
HOW CHRISTMAS MIGHT CHANGE
The decorations on the Christmas tree remind me of my past, looking forward to the future and taking stock of my life. How many Christmases have I celebrated and how many more Christmases do I have left? Of course none of us knows how many more Christmases we will be on this earth. None of us knows the day or the hour or the circumstance of our deaths. We also don’t know how our jobs or our families may change that might impact our celebration of Christmas in the future.
“I’LL BE HOME FOR CHRISTMAS – SOME DIDN’T COME HOME”
The song, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” was so immensely popular during World War II, because it captured the feeling of so many young people who had been shipped off to war and would not be home for Christmas. My mother shared with me her memory when she was a young army nurse serving in an army hospital in Louisiana, when the news came over the radio about Pearl Harbor, and it was announced: “all leaves were canceled,” and everyone started crying, because they were sure they would be shipped overseas and they would never see home again – much less be home for Christmas. Some people like my name sake Robert Bruce didn’t see home again.
MASLOW’S HIERARCHY OF NEEDS
And so with all those memories I was taking stock of my life. The Monday Bible Study this past Monday began talking about the importance of seeking, finding, establishing meaning in our lives — the upper half of the Pyramid of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. I guess that’s what was going on inside my head taking down the Christmas tree.
WHERE ARE WE GOING?
One of the factors that drives us to seek the meaning of life is our appreciation like Charlie Brown that we will not be here forever. There are trees in my yard that will be here long after I am gone. And I have come to an age, when I may be planting trees whose fruit I may never eat. But that is part of the cycle of life. Any project really worth doing requires more than one life time. So where are we going? We don’t know, but at some point we won’t be here.
On our morning walks we often use Bill Tucker’s phone to look up questions that occur to us. When we asked Siri, the virtual assistant inside Bill’s iphone, “what is the meaning of life?”
Siri replied, “All evidence to date suggests it is chocolate.”
A MEANINGFUL LIFE
Maybe the important point is rather than trying to find the meaning of life, we seek to live a meaningful life. Thinking about a meaningful life, I saw a story that might give us all a little pause. A man and his wife were sitting in the living room and he said to her, “Just so you know, I never want to live in a vegetative state dependent on some machine. If that ever happens, just pull the plug.” His wife got up and unpluged the TV.
ARE OUR LIVES MEASURED BY WHAT WE BUY?
How do we take the measure of our lives? Are we measured by our productivity? Do we have to make our numbers? Is our worth determined by what other people think or say about us? Is the length of our resumes or our list of accomplishments the measure of who we are? Or in 21st Century America have we commoditized the meaning of life? Has life become defined by what we buy? I owe, I owe, it’s off to work I go! Does our work have meaning beyond affording us the opportunity to buy stuff? And what if our true life work is not how we happen to earn a living? Many people earn their take home pay performing honest work, but their real purpose is found in some avocation or volunteer work. We are all created with gifts and talents to use for the glory of God. How do we take the measure of our service to God?
HAVE I LABORED IN VAIN?
I think in our scripture Isaiah was looking back on his life and feeling discouraged. What had he done? As far as he could see he had accomplished nothing. The Jews were a conquered people living in exile and captivity in Babylon. Their nation had been laid waste. The Temple was in ruins. The prospects for the future were bleak, and Isaiah was beating up on himself: “I have labored in vain, I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity. . . .” It was not a very good time to be a prophet in Israel. Maybe it’s never a good time to be a prophet. Isaiah was feeling like a failure.
TRUST ME, I AM FAITHFUL
And then God spoke to Isaiah: “I the LORD called you from the womb, from the body of your mother I named you.” I think if we listen closely we can hear God saying to each one of us. “I made you. I don’t make junk. You are precious. You are my servant. I do not measure you as the world measures. My numbers are not the world’s numbers. My thoughts are not the world’s thoughts. I did not create you to be successful as the world measures success. I have called you to faithfulness. Because you cannot see all time and space at a glance you cannot appreciate the importance of your existence. Trust me, for I am faithful.”
HOW YOU MADE THEM FEEL
No matter how humble we may be each one of us is important in the eyes of our Creator and in our relationships. Most of us will not accomplish much of lasting value in our work. We have more of an opportunity to make a lasting contribution in our avocations, our volunteer commitments, even our life together in the church, than we will at our place of employment. But the most important contributions most of us will make are in our relationships. How we touch people’s lives. African American poet Maya Angelou has captured the importance of our relationships in her famous quotation: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
If you find yourself next year putting ornaments on a Christmas tree, take time to take the measure of your life. How many Christmases have we decorated a tree, how many more Christmases do we have left? Where are we going? What are our most important relationships? How is our relationship with God doing? Trust God, for God is faithful.