The Presbyterian Pulpit
A sermon by the Rev. Dr. David E. Leininger


Delivered 1/10/99
Text: Psalm 147:12-20
To read endnotes, click on the the note number, then click on the to return to your place in the text.

Considering that this is the first time we have been able to worship together since 1998, I suppose I should wish a Happy New Year. But, regardless of the fact that we are already a week and a half into '99, the inclination since the beginning has been WHY BOTHER? No one seems to care that 1999 has arrived other than that this is the last one before 2000 gets here. All the conversation during the first days of the year has been about the millennium and its attendant "bug." An article on the front page of last Saturday's paper worried that, with our habit of attaching names to decades (the 70's, the 80's, the 90's, etc.), what we should call the next one. The Zeros? The Oh-oh's?(1) "It's troubling, very troubling," opines the writer. Is it? Must we worry ALREADY?

At Times Square in New York, half a million people turned out on New Year's Eve for the traditional party of music and fireworks, but they all knew it was literally a rehearsal for a much bigger, 24-hour bash next year. Even the famous rhinestone-covered ball which drops down at midnight will be replaced for 2000 by a glitzier one of hand-cut Waterford crystal.

Around the world, the French Culture Minister promised to create for the millennium "the most amazing decor ever set up in the center of Paris" in the shape of 12 giant doorways connected by red carpets linking some of the city's major sights. In London, where around 100,000 people converged on Trafalgar Square to see in the New Year, police were already worrying about how to prevent trouble and injuries in a year's time, when three times that many are expected. In Rome, Pope John Paul declared the start of the third Christian millennium a holy year or jubilee. He said, "In a year's time the Holy Year will begin and numerous pilgrims from every corner of the earth will start to arrive. I hope with all my heart that a Church that is lively and rich in religious fervor will be there to welcome them."(2)

Of course, religious people here at home are looking toward 2000, especially those on the fringes. There is that Denver-based cult that was deported from Israel this week because they were planning violent confrontations to "hurry-up" the second coming of Christ. On the World Wide Web there is a site called "Rapture Ready" written by a man named Todd Strandberg. He takes the Y2K crisis so seriously that he is quitting his job, selling all his possessions, and moving to Iceland where they are supplied by geothermal power. His website is a clearinghouse of various end-times prophetic movements like predictions of who the Antichrist might be. Theories include the Pope, a frequently named choice, but there are also a number of more creative ones like John F. Kennedy, Ronald Wilson Reagan (because he has 6 letters in each of his 3 names, and 666 is supposed to be the Mark of the Beast from Revelation), Bill Gates (because of his ability to communicate with the whole world), even Barney the Dinosaur (Why? Revelation 13:4, "They worshiped THE DRAGON, for he had given his authority to the beast, and they worshiped the beast, saying, "Who is like the beast, and who can fight against it?")(3) Incredible!

Jerry Falwell has a new videotape out which, for the bargain price of only $25 plus $3.00 for postage and handling, will explain that "Y2K may be God's instrument to shake this nation, to humble this nation." Predicting the possibility of catastrophe, he suggests that Y2K could "start a revival that spreads [over] the face of the earth before the Rapture of the Church."(4) Jerry stops short of saying outright that the Lord will come in 2000. But, he tells his audience, "I wouldn't be a bit surprised he did."

As you have heard a million times by now, the so-called "millennium bug" is a potential computer problem that will be caused if older hardware and software that used only two digits to designate a year misreads that change to 2000 next year as a reversion to 1900. Doom-sayers suggest the result will be massive disruption - empty grocery shelves, failed banks, closed airports, missing Social Security checks and dead 911 lines.

For his part, Falwell says he intends to stock up on food, sugar, gasoline...and ammunition. What? He says, "Because if I'm blessed with a little food and my family is inside the house with me, I've got to be sure that I can persuade others not to mess with us." Falwell adds, however, that he "wouldn't want to hurt anybody."(5) Nice fellow.

Do we really have anything to worry about? Sure, there will be some problems here and there, but they will be technological, not theological. After all, as most scholars will attest, the ACTUAL end of the millennium is already past - Jesus was born sometime between 4 and 7 BC. If the 2,000th anniversary of that blessed event were of divine significance, we would already know about it.

The Presbyterian Church has not made any official statements on the arrival of Y2K. Others have. Last fall, both the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Assemblies of God weighed in with pastoral letters counseling against expecting either significant religious events or catastrophe when the millennium arrives. "We encourage our people to not engage in activities such as hoarding food, withdrawing money from banks, believing doomsday scenarios, or expecting the economic, political, and social collapse of western civilization when the clock strikes Jan. 1, 2000."(6) Amen.

In light of all that, we encounter the words of the Psalmist, words that were originally directed toward a people who had lived, not through a millennium bug but a Babylonian bug - they had been overrun, carried off into exile, held for 70 years, then finally allowed to return to a devastated homeland. They were depressed, dejected, dispirited, downhearted, but now they hear a faint song singing to them in their distress:

Praise the LORD, O Jerusalem! Praise your God, O Zion! For he strengthens the bars of your gates; he blesses your children within you. He grants peace within your borders; he fills you with the finest of wheat...He gives snow like wool; he scatters frost like ashes. He hurls down hail like crumbs-- who can stand before his cold? He sends out his word, and melts them; he makes his wind blow, and the waters flow.

Do you hear that? The force that drives the universe, producing rain and snow and heat and cold is not just something we observe and experience...but someone we know. This is the power that built the mountains, the power that dug the oceans, the power that hung the sun and moon and stars. This is the power that changed history with the birth of a baby. This is the power that holds all things together, even Y2K and beyond. This is our God whom we have come to know in Jesus Christ. This is the one who invites us to the Table. Just one more reminder of who cares for us. One more reminder of who is in charge. The only proper and fitting response is to join in the psalmist's song and sing, long and loud, "Praise the LORD! Praise the Lord!"


1. "Michael Young, "Oh-oh: What shall we call the next decade?" Knight-Ridder News Service, Greensboro News & Record, 1/2/99, A-1

2. Kevin Liffey, "Start Of 1999 Already Overshadowed By Millennium," Reuters, 1/1/99, via Internet

3. Michael D. Harnois, Via Ecunet, "Sermonshop Sermons," #1074, 11/29/98

4. Caryle Murphy, "'Millennium Bug' A Matter of Faith," The Washington Post, 11/23/98, B-1

5. ibid.

6. ibid.

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