I never stay up until midnight on New Year’s Eve. I’m not a party person; my child rises pre-dawn; fireworks are a waste of money; the calendar is an arbitrary human construct. However, it’s been such a blah ten months that even I can’t help but nurse a flicker of hope that adding a 1 to a 20 will somehow improve things. (Maths has always mystified me anyway, so why not?)
Alas, it’s a pretty thin reason for hope. Virus microbes have not bought into time-keeping. The human race perpetuates as much sin today as it did two weeks ago. The cheer-filled call of “papa… paaaapaa…” continues to ring down my hallway before 6am. But if the world spontaneously came into existence from space dust and we are just an accidental success after millions of years of millions of genetic failures, it makes sense to hunt for assurance anywhere you can trick your mind into believing in it. It’s a more bearable way to pass the time.
But we are not just passing time before passing into oblivion. We know that God is in control of the world, both its happiness and sufferings. He has charge of 2021. His Son will return at the perfect time to make all things new, all things right, all things beautiful and true and good. His arms carry mercy for the morally destitute, and he takes our hand and places it in his so we can take part in his grace. We can persevere because he is both the light at the end of the tunnel and the light that floods the tunnel. We have hope because he is hope. Christ was born, Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.
Ah, so it’s more of the same, is it? More trudging, more weariness, more longing to put down the burden. More moments of joy, more amazement at creation, more thankfulness for Christian fellowship.
Yes, it’s news to no-one that 2021 will probably be much like 2020 when you get down to the essentials. Neither humanity nor hope are actually much changed by a pandemic or its completion. As a society we remain focused on our own selves all the time; as the one deity Jesus remains the only vaccine for sin.
But you have changed, you who have been delivered from evil’s dominion into the true hope of Jesus’ kingdom. And 2020 changed you. Think about it. So many of your old ministries, your former ways of doing the Christian life: extended, altered, diversified. Okay, sure, also lost, suspended, banned. But you never lost the ability to serve the Saviour you trust. You learned new ways of gathering, discovered and treasured the parts of church you cannot do without, explored what it means to share the gospel in lockdown. You skilled up!
This year, take the best of 2020 with you, no matter how it ends up looking. Be hopeful. Be flexible. Be creative. Be gracious. Be thankful. Make disciples. Hold your plans lightly. Look to the rights and well-being of others. Keep the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit as your king and centre. Entrust your needs and anxieties to the one who cares for you. You’ve done it before. He will help you do it again, more mature in him. Whatever God has for you in 2021, put him first and serve him with all the skills, new and old, he has given to you.
A year ago in March, as Western lockdowns began, Ian suggested that we remember one of my very favorite Bible verses, Romans 12:12: “rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer”. (He used the NIV translation over my preferred ESV phrasing, but I’ll let that slide.) Nothing about the Christian life in a dying world has changed to make that any less relevant in 2021—and nothing will until Christ returns.