In my lifetime, 2020 has been the strangest of years. I never ran out of toilet paper or anything for that matter. I did buy some wax for making jam because lids for jars have been hard to get where I live. There have been strange shortages, inconsistent rules, violence which beget more violence, and virtue signals sent in odd ways.

There has been an increase in unverified information and pictures and quotes taken out of context for vile, outrageous uses. There has been abuse of power and abuse of freedom. Some have lost their businesses or gone into more debt, while others have fared quite well. We have lurched from crisis to crisis while navigating in an atmosphere of fear and distraction. Some boldly proclaiming, “I am not afraid!” (hard to tell if it is genuine or just a mask of a different sort). Others content to condemn because they can protect themselves while pushing risk onto their less affluent neighbors.

It has also been a year of looking forward to better times. It has been a year of the testing of our trust in each other and for religious folk faith in God. It has been a year that has demanded grace and forgiveness. Because of that we can see clearly when those qualities are absent. The year just passed was one of those that washed away facades and revealed, for good or ill, the character of our faith. It turned out that some were based primarily on rights, or patriotism, or science — all of which were brought to bear on what God or Jesus meant.

It is my opinion that there are too many who have a vested interest in the fear and distraction so that it becomes difficult to know who or what we should truly fear. In the New Testament, Jesus made it clear to his disciples, whom he had sent, “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Mt. 20:28) King David said in Psalm 27:1, “The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?”

Be courageous, but understand the difference in courage and bravado. Courage recognizes the danger and seeks to mitigate it when possible. Courage has patience and gentleness with those whose courage fails. Those who are afraid are not likely to be insulted into courage, and no one mitigating danger is likely to be convinced by bravado to act recklessly.

And so a couple of borrowed words of encouragement as we enter into a new year. First from a spiritual letter written by François Fénelon (1651-1715). It is a dangerous thing to do, but I quote it here not fully aware of his context. It does, however, seem appropriate for ours today. Such is the nature of spiritual insight. “I pray God that this new year may be full of grace and blessing to you. I am not surprised that you do not enjoy recollection as you did on being delivered from a long and painful agitation. Everything is liable to be exhausted. A lively disposition, accustomed to active exertion, soon languishes in solitude and inaction. For a great number of years you have been necessarily much distracted by external activity, and it was this circumstance that made me fear the effect of the life of abandonment upon you. You were at first in the fervor of your beginnings, when no difficulties appear formidable. You said with Peter, it is good for us to be here; but it is often with us as it was with him, that we know not what we say. (Mark ix. 56.) In our moments of enjoyment, we feel as if we could do everything; in the time of temptation and discouragement, we think we can do nothing, and believe that all is lost. But we are alike deceived in both.” (Letter XX).

Next a poem by Frances Ridley Havergal (1836- 1879) titled, “New Year’s Wishes” in Kept for the Master’s Use,

What shall I wish thee?

Treasures of earth?

Songs in the springtime,

Pleasure and mirth?

Flowers on thy pathway,

Skies ever clear?

Would this ensure thee

A Happy New Year?

What shall I wish thee?

What can be found

Bringing thee sunshine

All the year round?

Where is the treasure,

Lasting and dear,

That shall ensure thee

A Happy New Year?

Faith that increaseth,

Walking in light;

Hope that aboundeth,

Happy and bright;

Love that is perfect,

Casting out fear;

These shall ensure thee

A Happy New Year.

Peace in the Saviour,

Rest at His feet,

Smile of His countenance

Radiant and sweet,

Joy in His presence!

Christ ever near!

This will ensure thee

A Happy New Year!

May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God our Father and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.