Shining in the Dark
Arise, shine; for your light has come,and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
In the midst of all that is happening these days, I have found it hard to say “Happy New Year.”
It seems discordant, especially on the news, for someone to report on some fresh horror in our world, and then to respond with a cheery “Happy New Year!” I have wondered what they mean in saying that, as it does not seem to be a happy new year at all. Perhaps it’s shorthand for “as we begin this new year, we pray desperately that God will save us from this time of fear and death, and that God will find a way to help us be happy again.”
And perhaps we do pray desperately for relief, as we hear of hospitals overflowing with patients, governmental confusion, and deep social divisions that prevent us from gaining strength from unified effort. Just this weekend, we started the new year with a federal government that seems to be disintegrating before our eyes, and the shocking news of the sudden death of our friend and former Board of Pensions regional representative, Rev. Clayton Cobb. Clayton went to the hospital on Wednesday due to pancreatitis, and died Saturday night due to complications. Looking at his Facebook page, as late as that Wednesday morning, he posted a funny video reflecting his decision to move to Monte Vista Grove as a young retiree. I want to believe he stayed full of the joy of the Lord until he passed on to glory, and I do pray for his family and many friends.
So how do we say “Happy New Year!” in the face of continued despair and hits to our souls? Perhaps it is a defiant charge to face future with a positive attitude, regardless of the circumstance; certainly humanity has faced countless calamities, and yet we persevere. I was reminded of a poem that has been putatively attributed to a Jewish person hiding from Nazis in Cologne:
I believe in the sun—even when it is not shining I believe in love—even when it is not apparent
I believe in God—even when he is silent.
I appreciate this assertion of faith; a dramatic manifestation of Hebrews 11:1, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” And a good reminder as we acknowledge both the deadly power of an unseen virus, and the life-giving power of Jesus Christ.
I always remember a woman who commented, after an interfaith service, that she appreciated our Christian faith allowing for the realty of suffering, yet offering hope that overcomes that suffering. This season after Christmas, as we approach Epiphany, we dwell on the concept of light, the light that shines on the people who walked in darkness, the light that shines in the darkness, the light coming into the world in the person of Jesus Christ.
Lately I’ve thought about light, that doesn’t only dispel darkness but also forces us to see personal and corporate brokenness that needs to be confronted. As the light shines on what we try to avoid, we are given the choice to face it or deny it—as Christians, if we remember the abundance of grace that Jesus offers us, we are bold to face our sin, our woundedness, our despair, and reject it, confident that there is no sin so great, no hatred so vile, no fear so consuming, that God’s love cannot overcome it.
As we begin another year of life and service, it’s appropriate to face future with prayer and commitment. We do not live in denial; we are not paralyzed by fear—we face future with faith that God calls us forward in love, and walks with us every step of the way. As we begin the new year, I want to share a poetic interpretation of Psalm 90, from poet scholar David Rosenberg:
and for every day lost
we find a new day revealing
where we are
in the future and in the past
this moment with you
made human for us
to see your work
in the open-eyed grace of children
the whole vision unlocked
to the thrill of light
where our hands reach for another’s
opening to life
in our heart’s flow
the work of this hand
to you and from you.
It occurs to me that our common prayer, the prayer Jesus taught us, encompasses our need for care and forgiveness, and the power and saving will of God to care not only for us but for this whole world. Let us enter this new year with that prayer on our lips, in our hearts, and in the life we lead.
Happy New Year,