2020 was a complex, confusing and sometimes difficult year. Our reactions were equally mixed – fear, frustration, anger, relief, grief, selfishness, pride, joy and disappointment, among others.
Are we glad that our society has been spared the worst (so far at least) of COVID-19, or do we mourn those who have died, or who live in circumstances far worse than our own?
Is self-protection paramount, or should we risk our safety for the welfare of others? You could say that our bubble of invincibility has burst, a perpetual lesson going back to the tower of Babel. In Genesis 11, God scattered people across the earth.
In 2020 we hunkered down. Essentially, we could only deal with the disease by hiding from it, and our governments quickly became very good at making us do that. Soon, with the help of vaccines, we might just re-establish enough control to return to business as normal – or close to it.
Human beings are great adaptors. And, at least in Australia and New Zealand, our lifestyles will probably be largely unchanged, except for a few things like travel.
What have we learned from 2020? Once we know the answer to that question, we will know how wise or foolish we have become.
I pray for wisdom – the wisdom of knowing that we are not our own gods, but there is One, whom we know as Jesus Christ, who is Immanuel, God with us. And knowing him and trusting God’s Son, who was born for us, lived and died for us, conquered death for us is the way to eternal life, whatever ravages of this present life may confront us.
Our faith is not reliant on our security in this world. It does not rely on successful systems which meet all our needs. It does not depend on maintaining the comforting, familiar structures of society and church. God would still save us without all these things.
When the people of Israel, devastated and fearful, found themselves caught between a pursuing army and the impassable waters of the Red Sea, Moses said to them, ‘Do not be afraid, stand firm, and see the deliverance that the Lord will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you see today you shall never see again. The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to keep still.’ Then God cut through the waters for them and they walked through on dry land.
Our dry land, the bedrock of our faith, is Jesus Christ. The devil and the world have already done their worst to him, and he has overcome it all, even death.
To paraphrase Moses, we now need to stand firm in our Saviour and keep still while the Lord fights for us.
When distressed, Martin Luther would comfort himself by repeating, ‘I am baptised! I am baptised!’ When the world tries to destroy us, tempting us to abandon Jesus and justify ourselves, we too can reply, ‘I am baptised! God has given me faith in my Saviour Jesus Christ. In his name, I am washed clean.’ We can still stand together confidently today as God’s baptised, redeemed family of sinners and saints. With him there is enough love, and enough power, to save the whole world.
Bishop John Henderson is on annual leave. This column has been adapted from his Heartland eNews published 16 December 2020.