Pastoral Message: December 2017

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Back in the 1930s, the Rev. Thornwell Jacobs (what a great name!) was president of a Presbyterian college in Atlanta called Oglethorpe University. Rev. Jacobs got an idea intended to get Oglethorpe University in the national news. He decided to prepare a massive time capsule and seal it in the basement of the campus administration building. He called it a “Crypt of Civilization” and received a hearty endorsement for his plan from Scientific American. This special room was meant to record life in the early 20th century by sealing up encyclopedias, newspapers preserved on microfilm, miniature models of cars, and a complete model of the U.S. Capitol Building. Along with these things, Jacobs wanted to include everyday items, like a set of Lincoln Logs toys, a sheet of aluminum foil, model trains, chewing gum, and phonograph records bearing the voices of world leaders like Franklin Roosevelt and King Edward VIII.

On May 25, 1940, the crypt was loaded, dedicated, and had its stainless-steel door welded shut. The plan was to keep this time capsule closed until the year 8113. Why that date? It’s a convoluted story; suffice to say that Jacobs treated his idea as the midpoint of all human history and decided that all the years that had already elapsed (based on ancient Egyptian calendars) should be added to his current date, meaning the time capsule would be opened again at the end of history in 8113.

Even if you are skeptical about the feasibility of Rev. Jacobs’ plan, you have to admire his sheer visionary thinking. When was the last time you thought about the year 8000 AD? When was the last time you thought about the 22nd century, something only 83 years in the future? In our fast-paced world today, I’d wager that we have trouble thinking about next year or next month, much less spending any time contemplating the next millennia!

We do a disservice to the Christian season of Advent if we think it is only meant to help us focus on Christmas Day in late December. The purple-hued, candle-commemorated, four weeks of Advent were never intended as countdowns to Christmas. This season encourages us to lift our eyes to a distant horizon—to hear again the ancient promise that Christ, the One who came once upon this earth has promised to come again.

That theological idea shouldn’t prompt us to pull out our calculators, and like Rev. Jacobs, try to determine when God will pull down the final curtain on human history. Advent isn’t about tucking away things in a time capsule until the vaults of civilization can be unsealed and we step into God’s future with the baggage, knickknacks and trinkets of our day and age. Advent is about a promised change that finally frees us from our past and moves us into a new reality—an eternity shaped by God’s love, Christ’s compassion, and the Spirit’s joyful creativity. It builds on the good news of Christmas (God made flesh), Easter (Christ defeating death), and Pentecost (Spirit leading us into communities of love) and then goes further. Further than we can see or imagine. So take time this month to look towards a very far horizon. And know that the God of “there” is also the God of “here and now.” No need to wait for time capsules to be unsealed. Let the journey of faith begin today!

—Randy Bush

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