2020 - it wasn't all bad...was it?
In the spirit of hope and joy that marks Christmas, here is a list of things that weren't so bad about 2020 - things through which we may trace the hand of God at work. By Darren Blaney
Christmas Season is upon us, and more importantly for many of us, 2020 is nearly over.
This year has certainly been a year like no other and one that we will never forget. However, before we write it off entirely as a lost cause, perhaps we should pause to think for a moment. If we believe in a God who is sovereign and good, then whatever the difficulties of the year, He has been at work furthering His purposes. So in the spirit of hope and joy that marks Christmas, here is a list of things that weren't so bad about 2020, things through which we may trace the hand of God at work.
1. Captain Tom
At the start of the year, Thomas Moore was an unknown 99-year-old, World War 2 veteran, living out his final years in peace and quiet. Today he is a multiple record-breaking, chart-topping, best-selling, Knight of the Realm. Not bad for a man who can only walk slowly with the aid of a frame.
What propelled Capt Tom to such fame? Yes, it was the media coverage, of course. But that only answers the how, not the why. I think there were two reasons behind the Capt Tom Phenomenon.
Firstly, of all the people who had a right to lock themselves away, do nothing, and complain about how awful everything was, surely a frail 99-year old would be top of the list? Yet, he didn't. He decided to take action. He might not be able to change the world, but he could do something. Indeed, to use the old phrase of US President Theodore Roosevelt, he did what he could, where he was, with what he had. In the end, in a small but profound way, he did end up changing the world.
That, in turn, leads to the second reason why Capt Tom became such an icon. In doing what he did, I think Sir Tom embodied something we all want to see in ourselves: the ability to transcend our circumstances and not be defined by them, the ability to do something good and meaningful, even in the midst of the most distressing of times. People gave because they saw something in him that they hope lives in them too. Perhaps that is why a popular Christmas advert on the TV suggests that the only thing that puts you on the “naughty list”this year is not having donating to his fund-raising appeal!
In all this I am reminded of the miracle of the Feeding of the 5,000. He may have looked at his walking frame and his small patch of garden and saw little more than five small fishes and two barley loaves. God saw a way of touching the lives of millions. Perhaps that is a lesson the church needs to hear again and take to heart.
(By the way, just for the record: it is estimated that the final total that he raised for the NHS will be just shy of £39 million, his autobiography was a Sunday Times #1 best-seller, and his chart-topping rendition of "you'll never walk alone" made him the oldest person ever to have a UK #1 hit. He didn't have a bad year really, did he? I wonder what you and I will be doing in our 100th year?)
2. Learning to cherish church
Many people have said to me how much they miss Sunday morning church. You remember that, don't you? That's the one where we used to complain that the building was too cold, or the sound system too loud, or we didn't like the drums, or the sermon was too long, or the service finished ten minutes late, or we never sang our favourite hymn anymore... Now we realise how much we had, how special it was, and how much we benefited from it. Now we treasure the thought of being able to meet together, to shake hands and hug, to pray together and sing out loud God's praises as His people.
God has been reminding us how important church is. May we never forget 2020 and forever be thankful for our church, whatever its imperfections might be!
3. Breaking out into new technologies
Let me be honest, before March this year I had never even heard of Zoom! I certainly never thought that the sentence I would utter more this year than any other would be "you're on mute!"
Most of us have a love/hate relationship with this technology. We find it difficult and at times frustrating, yet we are deeply grateful that it allows us to continue meeting together. Whether it has been Zoom, Facebook Live or Youtube, the church in the UK has been experimenting with and adapting to the use of new communication technologies.
Along with learning new skills this has also opened up new ways for the church to connect with people who might otherwise never come to a church building and so never have heard the gospel. Indeed, a majority of churches surveyed have said that even when things go back to 'normal', they will continue to offer online services as well.
(By the way, there are rumours that after the pandemic is over Facebook, Twitter and Youtube are going to merge. The new service will be called You Twitface. Apologies, please keep reading...)
4. The relevance of the Good News
If 2020 has taught us anything, it is surely that this life, this world that we take for granted, is far more fragile than we ever dared think. A tiny microscopic virus has managed to shut down most of the economy, end normal life as we know it, and spread fear and uncertainty to millions. Perhaps it is a partial fulfilment of the words in Hebrews 12:26-28:
"At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe."
In a year where so much has been shaken, let us be grateful that we have received in Jesus Christ that which can never be shaken. Let us remember that the certainty of this life is but an illusion. It is the good news that gives us the only certainties in life, both in this world and the one to come.
5. How has your faith been?
Lastly, with much of the support offered by church, homegroups and even meeting with friends taken away from us, this has been a year where our faith has been tested. How have you done? If you have struggled, do not despair! God does not test us to crush us, but rather to grow us. Scripture is full of this:
“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” - James 1:2-4
“In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith—being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.” - 1 Pet 1:6-7
“And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” - Rom 5:3-5
"And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified." - Rom 8:28-30
So be encouraged. What the world, the enemy and even our own sinful nature may have intended to harm us, God will use to refine and build us - even if it doesn’t feel like it.
We are still in the season of Christmas. Many of us will have celebrated it quite differently this year from how we have in the past. Yet it’s central message remains unchanged. It is a message of hope, a message of a God who works through the most unlikely of people in the most unlikely of situations to bring about salvation for His people.
That same God is still at work today and we can trace His hand at work through the events of this year. It hasn’t all been bad. He's still using unlikely people, like you and me, in the midst of unlikely times…like 2020.
Image | Biljana Jovanovic | Pixabay
Darren Blaney is minister of Herne Bay Baptist Church
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