Walter Winchell, the famous syndicated newspaper gossip columnists, was once one of the most feared and powerful men in America. It was believed that Winchell could make or break careers with his column. Yet, he ended up a recluse living in a hotel and handing out typed and mimeographed copies of his column on a street corner. When he died, no one but his daughter attended his funeral.
In Billy Wilder’s famous film, Sunset Boulevard, Norma Desmond is a former silent movie star whose fame has faded into obscurity at the onset of talking pictures. Wilder’s character is characteristic of so many Hollywood celebrities over the years who ended up futilely coveting another curtain call long after the final curtain had come down on their careers.
There are few sadder sights in this world than to see the formerly famous futilely grasping for their former fame in the waning twilight of their lives. Yet, there they are, desperately grasping for what is definitely beyond their reach, the ever-elusive brass ring of their former celebrity. This pitiful phenomena serves as proof positive of the words of the Poet Thomas Gray: “The boast of heraldry, the pomp of power, And all that beauty, all that wealth ever gave, Await alike that inevitable hour, The paths of glory lead but to the grave.”
You and I find ourselves in a world today in which everything we have or have ever hoped to have is in sudden jeopardy. These perilous times of the last days are so precarious that we could lose all we have at any moment. For instance, as we’ve lately learned, our government can swoop in at anytime and suddenly suspend our constitutional rights and liberties, shutting down our businesses, workplaces, churches, schools, and favorite pastimes. Under this new and ever-present peril of being swiftly stripped of all of our earthly possessions and pleasures, we’re all in danger of becoming a Walter Winchell or a Norma Desmond; that is, a pitiful figure futility trying to cling to this fallen world’s fleeting things.
Our Lord not only taught us a most important life lesson, but appears in these days to be forcing us to learn it, by stripping us of all earthly possessions and pleasures. In Luke 12:15, Jesus said: “Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.” According Christ, life is not about this world’s temporal possessions and trifling pleasures. Instead, as the Apostle Paul taught, Christ is the Christian’s life (Colossians 3:4). The all-important question is: Are you content with Christ? If you’re not sure, you’re about to find out, as you are stripped of everything else.
Do you remember the tragic tale of the Rich Young Ruler, a man who forfeited eternal life over his refusal to empty his arms of worldly possessions so that he could forever embrace Christ (Mark 10:17-22)? Pitifully, he too died, as does every Rich Young Ruler, Walter Winchell, and Norma Desmond, with arms emptied of all earthy things, despite his desperate attempt to forever cling to them. On the other hand, there is the inspiring story of Jim Elliot, a missionary who was murdered during his attempt to evangelize the Huaorani people of Ecuador. After Elliot’s death, these words were found in his diary, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose!”