The famous have fallen in 2016. Not just one at a time, but in bunches and clusters. Famous, ground-breaking, best-selling musicians have passed away. Well-known, high-profile actors and actresses have died.
The toll from just the past week includes pop star George Michael, iconic actress Carrie Fisher, and just one day later, Fisher’s mother, Debbie Reynolds (a famous actress in her own right, though not to the younger crowd).
Much angst and ink has been spilled over these and other deaths in 2016. People bemoan the end of an era, the loss of one’s childhood, and collectively wail, “This has got to stop!” As in, “2016, you’ve been so mean. You’ve taken away so many important people. You need to go away. You need to stop!”
One question: does merely saying/posting/protesting, “This has got to stop!” end the fact that famous people – and many, many more not-so-famous people – die all the time? All. The. Time. Every single day.
Well, folks are about to get their wish. 2016 is nearly over; 2017 is almost here. Not much will change. More famous people will die. And so will many, many more not-so-famous people who probably mean a lot more to you personally than Prince or Alan Rickman. Perhaps even people you actually know and care about personally, people with whom you’ve lived and cried and laughed. People you’ve held. People for whom you’ve prayed.
It may be a pitfall of the preaching profession, but I suspect that many others have this same thought when a celebrity dies: Did that person believe in Jesus Christ? Did he or she die in faith? In the end, this is all that matters.
May I offer another take on what’s “got to stop?” Here’s what needs to simply go away in 2017: People depriving themselves of God’s blessings. What? Who would do that? Why? How do people deprive themselves of God’s blessings? They stay away from Word and Sacrament. When people keep themselves away from God’s Word, they choose to deny themselves blessings God wants them to have.
How does that stop? Here’s a call to action, in the form of a prayer: “Lord, help me to be in your Word daily, and to make worship a priority. Lord, lead me to take your Sacrament regularly.”
Something else that’s got to stop? People depriving others of God’s eternal blessings by not telling them the good news about Jesus. When we refrain from speaking about sin and grace, about God’s love in Christ, we’re not dispensing the greatest gifts we have to give. “Help me, Lord, to reach out to others with your saving Word.”
Time won’t stop until God says it’s time. Neither will death. But for God’s people, death’s bark is worse than its bite. “Thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:57) God bless you and yours in 2017.
“Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom…Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.” (Psalm 90:12,14)