From a New Year’s Eve sermon
A time to be born, and a time to die. (Ecclesiastes 3:2)
I think the text suits the occasion. It speaks to you of death: there is a time to be born and a time to die; it speaks of Christmas: there is a time to be born; it speaks of the birth of the new, and the departure of the old year: there is a time to die. And now I want you to notice this. Solomon is here reckoning up the different things for which in the course of these lives of ours, there is a season. And the two first and the two last answer in a certain way to each other: a time to be born and a time to die, a time of war and a time of peace. As much as to say: the time of being born is the time when, like some valiant general, we ought to go forth to war, a hard war, a long war, a war in which we are beset with all manner of enemies, a war in which we wrestle “against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places”; the time to die is the time when, like the same general, after many losses, many dangers, it may be many defeats, we nevertheless return home with victory, and enter into everlasting peace.
Think of that birth, when it was indeed time for the world that the King of kings and the Lord of lords should be born: when the fullness of that time was come which the Father had foreordained from all eternity: the time, as an old writer says, of new redemption, ancient restoration, of eternal felicity. That was the time in which the Child, then born to us, the Son, then given to us, went out to war: not to one battle and then an end: not to one year’s fighting, and then the peace, but to a wearisome struggle of thirty-three years and more, a struggle against all manner of enemies, a struggle with all sorts of difficulties. We rightly begin the year with the first sufferings of our Lord, because by means, and only by means of those sufferings of our Lord, because by means, and only by means of those sufferings, we hope to attain to that blessed country where they reckon not their time by days and years. This then, is the time in which our Lord thought it meet to be born. But we no sooner remember that, than we remember also that it is the time in which he ordained that his first martyr should die. Christ now descended, that Stephen might now ascend: Christ came down into the manger of Bethlehem, that Stephen might go up into the palace of Heaven: Christ was wrapped in swaddling clothes, that Stephen might be endued with the robe of immorality: for Christ there was no room in the inn, that for Stephen there might be one of the many mansions in the eternal city: Christ entered amid the songs of the angels, that Stephen might depart amid the blasphemies of those who stoned him. Not an ill time then (is it?) to die, that in which Saint Stephen saw Heaven opened, and the Son of Man standing on the right hand of God, that in which too, the Holy Innocents set forth the praise of the Lord, not by their words but by their blood.
And now look at the two years: the poor old worn-out year, that had seen so much sorrow and suffering and sickness and sin, and was gathered to its fathers at midnight, and the new year, so full of hope and vigor and expectation, as yet. There has been a time to die for the one; there is a time to be born for the other.
I cannot tell – which of us can tell? – whether it may or may not please God that this year on which we have now entered shall be one of more rest and quietness to us than the last. It ought not to matter. In whatever situation it pleases God to place us, there we know that we are given the opportunity, if we will, of working out our own salvation. Yet, I trust that God may make our enemies to be at peace with us. We have all of us enemies enough in our own hearts, I am quite sure, to take up all our time and all our thoughts, without their being thus distracted. For this I have prayed earnestly, that the Prince of Peace, at whose birth, when he came into the world, peace was sung by the angels, and who when he was going out of the world, bequeathed peace to his apostles, may give peace in our time: peace, not from strife within ourselves, for that, while we live in the flesh, we always must have, but peace from Earthly enemies here, and, in the world to come, that perfect peace which can never – no not for one moment – be broken, because Jerusalem is the vision of peace.