Now in 2002 we've almost forgotten the millennium.
There were those who strongly told us that the new millennium wouldn't start until 1 January 2001. The global celebrations assumed it to be 1 January 2000. The purists could tell us the date was already past, because Pope Gregory XIII got it wrong and, by our present (Gregorian) calendar, Jesus Christ was born somewhere between 4 and 6 BC.
The start of the second millennium was marked by fear. There was a spectacular appearance of Halley's Comet (recorded on the Bayeux tapestry) and many folk really believed that the end of the world had come.
Three years ago the fears were technological. Would the Y2K problem bring down the world's computers and wreck our whole system of trade and commerce? What would happen to people who had pacemakers to keep their hearts beating in rhythm? There were real concerns that there could be unexpected problems in aircraft computers and many airlines decided there would be no flights during the period. Perhaps it was our technological fears about Y2K that led the world to celebrate on 1 January 2000 - that was the great fear barrier we had to get past.
But there was a bigger fear - it is with us still. Scientifically, technologically, we can do so much. We even believe ourselves capable of achieving whatever we imagine. We can do it alone. We don't need any unnecessary, outmoded concepts such as "God". We're grown up now.
And yet the technology that has given us newspaper, radio and television can beam into our living rooms the technology of war - and our extreme expressions of human jealousy, bitterness and hate. We are the generation that can watch the Twin Towers fall as it happens, that can witness the bombing in Afghanistan Our song-writers have longed for "love, sweet love". Yet we have been losing our ability to live in love - in marriage, families, communities and nations. Whether we are reflecting on the events in Bali or on Australian statistics for domestic violence and child abuse, it is clear that something is wrong. We have taken a wrong turning and need to find our way back.
We need to rediscover the millennial love of God. Three years ago we were hearing a lot of nonsense about the millennium. But it was too big a time span for any of us. Premier Beattie announced a government budget to "take us into the new millennium." Even church leaders foolishly talked about "policies for the new millennium." Governments - and even churches - can only plan for the next few years.
"But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day" (2 Pet. 3.8). In the economy of eternity, a millennium is less than a fraction of a split second. Don't get me wrong - I'm not trying to limit the love and activity of God to a thousand years, but to stretch our minds and hearts beyond the little time-frame we call "the present." No human activity can lay claim to being "millennial" - though Napoleon believed his place in history was so important that he wanted the world's calendars reset to year 1.
It was into this world governed by days and months and years that Jesus the Son of God came. Why? Because of the millennial love of God. The problems of human selfishness, violence and greed go back a very long way. They are expressed in new and ugly ways, but they go back to the dawn of time.
In Jeremiah 31.3, we hear the Lord saying, "I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness." There are two different words for love here. One (ahev) is used for affection, whether pure or impure, divine or human. The other (hesedh) speaks of love in action - the goodness and favour of God expressed redemption, protection and kindness.
And in John 3.16 - "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life" (Jn 3.16).
Once again it's Christmas time. In the midst of our human situation we are reflecting on the love of God towards humanity expressed throughout the millennia of human history. We celebrate the love of God in action - God's gift of love in the coming of Jesus Christ his only Son, the gift of love for human redemption.
See him - nailed,
For you and me -
God's gift of love.
See him risen -
Word of hope,
Power to save -
God's gift of love.
See him, hear him,
Give him place,
Take and tell
The word of grace -
God's gift of love.
"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." God's gift of love is available for all, but needs to be received, to be welcomed. The promise is that "whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life."
That offer is for everyone - for people of every race and creed, for "saints" and "sinners" alike. The promise awaits our response.
The news this week said that some kindergartens in Victoria are banning Santa Claus this year to avoid offence to children of other religions - as if Santa is at the centre of our Christian celebration! The issue for us all is - how do we respond to Jesus the Son of God? Now that may well be offensive to other religions, but it is the gospel and we have a responsibility to get it out to everyone in the world.
"Take and tell the word of grace" - the gift of God's love isn't just for us. As we receive God's love, we are to share love with others. As we receive Jesus, we are to share him with others.
Commercially, this will no doubt be another big-spending Christmas. Many people may once again be over-spending their credit cards as gifts are purchased, given, received.
Come, celebrate the gift of love - God's love poured out in human history two millennia ago, God's love still offered to us all!
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