From the Pastor’s Study (1/16/22)
On December 31, 1999, I, along with millions of others, was watching television early in the day as the New Year arrived in far off New Zealand and Australia. Normally, the arrival of the New Year in other countries would hold little or no interest for me. However, this was the year of “Y2K.” Everyone’s mind was fixed on the threat of a coming crisis that never came. Speculation was that computers worldwide would not adjust correctly as the date changed from 1999 to 2000. Some predicted the resulting shutdown of power grids, communications, and just about anything else that was connected to computers. If there was going to be a catastrophic Y2K shut down, it would happen first in the countries nearest to the International Date Line. So I, along with millions throughout the world watched. Of course everything went on without interruption. The only tangible impact Y2K had on the world’s economy and people’s lives was a dramatic drop in the price of generators and dehydrated food, which many worried people had been hoarding.
Television cameras showed the Sydney Harbor Bridge in Australia lit up with a dramatic fireworks display just as midnight arrived. I recall the celebration in Sydney specifically because the bridge was decorated with the word “Eternity” in enormous script that looked hand-written. As a Christian, I thought that such a sentiment was wholly appropriate for the New Year. And I wondered at the time, who was responsible for this unusually profound display. I only recently found out.
Sixty years before, an illiterate alcoholic from Sydney named Arthur Stace heard a sermon and experienced a dramatic religious conversion. An evangelist named John Ridley preached a message in which he said, “Eternity, eternity, I wish that I could sound or shout that word to everyone in the streets of Sydney. You’ve got to meet it, where will you spend eternity?” That message changed Arthur Stace’s life. He was convicted by the truth that he had to spend eternity somewhere, so he placed faith in Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior. And he determined that others should feel the impact of the same message he heard. Almost immediately he found some yellow chalk, and in beautiful flowing script wrote “Eternity” on the pavement, even though he had never learned to read or write.
For the next 35 years this was Arthur Stace’s mission – walking through the streets of Sydney at night and in the early morning, when no one would see him, and writing the word “Eternity” wherever he could — on sidewalks, subway walls, buildings, etc. One newspaper article about him estimated that Arthur Stace would go on to write his one-word sermon 500,000 times. The city took notice and newspapers searched for the mysterious “Mr. Eternity,” as he was labeled. For years, no one could discover his identity. He was very elusive. Finally, in 1956, he was caught in the act writing “Eternity,” and his name and story was revealed. Following his identification, he was brought up on charges dozens of times for defacing public property. Each time he repeated the same defense, “I had permission from a higher source.” Charges against him were always dropped.
Arthur Stace died in 1967. But his message did not pass away with him. A small aluminum memorial near the Sydney Town Hall still displays the word, “Eternity.” In fact, “Eternity” became such a part of Sydney’s lore that in 1999, the city honored Arthur Stace by replicating his handwriting in enormous letters across the city’s most famous bridge. Arthur Stace’s message was broadcast to the world as millions tuned in on television to see the New Year arrive in Australia. Who knows how many, upon seeing it, gave serious thought to that penetrating question that so impacted Arthur Stace: where will you spend eternity?