December 1, 2017
“No one will remember you.”
I was serving as an intern at a church in St. Louis. We were on an overnight bus ride with the students headed on a weekend ski trip. It was the middle of the night, and the bus had gone deafeningly quiet. I couldn’t sleep because of the lack of legroom, so I was listening to chapel sermons that I had missed from the previous semester of seminary.
Advent invites you to dance to a song older and more lasting than you can possibly imagine.”
To be more specific, I was listening to a Zack Eswine sermon from Ecclesiastes 1. It is the famous “vanity of vanities” passage, which exposes how life under the sun cannot fulfill us. The sermon was already hitting me hard. I had to acknowledge that part of why I was in seminary was a thirst for greatness. Part of why I chose to be an intern was to be well known. Part of why I was listening to sermons was so that I could learn and then in turn be loved for my own preaching. And my headphones crackled out the words, “No one will remember you.” He was drawing from Ecclesiastes 1:11: “There is no remembrance of former things, nor will there be any remembrance of later things yet to be among those who come after.”
The speaker wasn’t senselessly beating up his audience. In fact, he was confessing his own sinful desire to be great. I still think about that sermon all the time. “No one will remember you.” If we really contemplate the meaningless search for greatness, it should undo us.
My father recently heard the quote, “Your grandkids are part of the last generation to ever care that you existed.” Sobering, but probably true. For instance, what do you really know about your great-grandparents – their personalities, their desires, their character? You might have a few foggy stories, which have been told and retold, but do you really know them?
The point is not the meaninglessness of life. Instead, the point is that greatness fades as time marches on, and instead, Christians are called to faithfulness. The question that Scripture foists upon the reader is: what kind of person are you? That’s why the Bible gives us the fruits of the Spirit, so that we can look at our character as a measure of our life’s meaning.
Here’s the thing:
Your boss will certainly forget your long hours as she shifts into retirement.
Your employee of the month plaque in September of 2017 won’t be able to stay up there the following year.
Your yoga pants won’t always fit just right.
Your teachers (or students) will not remember you in just a few trips around the sun.
Your money will ultimately be spent by someone less careful than you.
Your fame will die with you. “No one will remember you.”
The reason I would posit such a heavy topic at such a wonderful time of year is that I don’t want us to miss the main point this Christmas. The New Testament writer Luke urges us to look for more (Luke 2:10-11):
And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”
Christmas is not an opportunity to consider how great we have become with parties, spending, and year-end bonuses. It’s actually a glorious reminder of how small we are. We tend to expect from our lives things that even a “great life” couldn’t possibly deliver. And we live in the anxiety of making it happen, the depression of seeing it fail, or the irritability of someone lost somewhere in the middle.
Advent invites you to dance to a song older and more lasting than you can possibly imagine. And the funny thing is, when you grow in your ability to wonder at the greatness of King Jesus, you actually grow in your ability to appreciate the smallness of your story. Reputations and bank accounts and appearances seem to shrink in importance. An ordinary life filled with work, laughter, love, interruptions, conversations, hugs, meals, tears, friends, and worship begins to feel like a full life. And you feel rescued from the ridiculous burden of greatness.