Twenty years ago we caught our collective breath as a nation when we saw this beautiful image appear for the climax of the New Year’s Eve fireworks in Sydney Harbour.
It was a wonderful moment, a celebration of something central to Sydney for so long. The humble story of Arthur Stace, transformed by Jesus, and transformed by eternity.
Stace wrote that word in copperplate script across the streets of the city for decades. For so long a mystery, he was eventually outed. A man of little learning, it was as if God had gifted him to write that word across the heart of an often heartless city. Mr Eternity he was called, before he was himself called into eternity.
I remember the last day of 1999, standing on the beach in Western Australia, sun going down on another long hot summer day. We’d just bought our first house, a humble 1920s wooden cottage that was going to take a long time to renovate and bring up to scratch. It felt like an eternity!
A lot has happened in my life in the past twenty years, a lot of growing up, and growing older, and growing more joyful and more sober each year. I was a young man then. Not so young now. Eternity beckons.
And a lot has happened in our nation. There have been plenty of rivals for that word “Eternity” in the past twenty years. In a sense although it was a joyous occasion to see that word splashed across the Harbour Bridge, it also felt like a line being drawn under another era. The old era of how life was meant to be. Celebrated, but also consigned to history. Almost a “Thanks for that, we’ve got it from here.” A bit like giving a gold watch to the bloke who won’t retire, but just might get the hint.
And so it’s been. The tide has turned on “Eternity”. It may indeed be written on our hearts as Scripture says, but we’ve been filling our hearts up with so much other stuff it’s at risk of getting lost down there.
In the years since that great event in 2000, I’ve seen a lot of takes on that word on the bridge, many a copperplate replica, but with a twist. A few gimmicky and a few very pointed indeed.
The most pointed, and perhaps the most significant was “Equality”. Perhaps it was a protest, but it also revealed the almost religious manner in which sexual matters have replaced spiritual matters in our culture. That’s perhaps where we are now.
But for me the word that would most replace it, indeed the word I would expect to see sparkling up there and lighting up the harbour for all of Australia to see, would be “Immediacy”.
Whatever it is, we want it, and we want it immediately. Those twenty years ago, pre-Facebook and Twitter and a whole host of social media, there was a sense in which things just couldn’t be that immediate. They would be bottlenecked. Bottlenecked by the slow-moving lanes of the mechanical world that was even then being swept away.
I wrote letters to the editor back in the day. Actual letters. They’d take ages to get there and then they’d be published. Now I can fire off a cheeky or churlish comment below the line on an online newspaper. I can offend someone immediately. So much better, eh?
At the start of the 2000, ideas would be bottlenecked. Not as much as before, but certainly more so than now. Arguments would be bottlenecked. Abuse of other people in the public square would be bottlenecked. The real world would curate and balance the immediacy of our hot tempers, over-eager opinions, trending, yet hollow, ideas.
And with the immediacy of ideas, comes the immediacy of expectations.
What do we want? Everything! When do we want it? Now! Twitter handles “#ScoMomustgo. Really? He just got elected. Shall we have an election every month to keep up?
And the immediacy of everything I can buy. Amazon, Book Depository, eBay, Wiggle, every online clothing and shoe store in the world. Then there’s the news. It happened two minutes ago and it’s gone viral. I realised how addicted I was to immediacy after the dreadful Charlie Hebdo terrorist massacre in Paris a few years ago.
No sooner had the news been announced than I Googled it, only to be met with the uncut video of a policeman being shot point blank in the head as he lay prostrate, wounded on the pavement. A mere half hour later the video had been edited to remove the actual gunshot. I still have the original in a tape loop in my head.
Yet that wasn’t immediate enough, was it? We – or at least some – got to see the whole dreadful Christchurch massacre in real time this past year. The video game interactive experience jumped into reality.
Yes, the word for the next twenty years must be “Immediacy”. Plaster it on our bridges, on our walls, on our porn sites, on our webpages, on our houses of parliament, on our legal firms, on our relationships. Dare I say it, plaster it on our churches and our theology. After all we’ve just watched in almost intrigued horror as a whole denomination – Bethel – virtually demanded an immediate resurrection online for the whole word to see.
Perhaps this is a time for God’s people to turn things around, and start to live once again for eternity rather than immediacy. To no longer need a President or Prime Minister who will let us rule like kings below. To no longer need all of the answers now, and be prepared to live by faith. To no longer need glory now, but indeed to suffer now, and wait for the glory of eternity.
What would it look like for God’s people to shun all the glitz and glamour of “Immediacy” as we go into 2020, and instead live the humble, grateful lives of “Eternity” modelled to them by Arthur Stace and his quiet revolution in old Sydney Town?