From this vantage point – that of January and February – the whole year stretches out ahead of us. As the new year begins, I always think that the forthcoming December seems an impossibly long way off and ask, ‘How will we ever get there?’. Of course, we always do, and another year comes to an end before we know it.
‘2020’ promises to be a bit of a ‘stand-out ‘year for me. I am fifty this year. When I say that to myself – ‘I’m nearly fifty’ – I can hardly believe it. I am one of those people who, when they were a teenager, thought they would never make thirty, let alone fifty. When I reached twenty-five, I felt like a grown-up. From that perspective, fifty seemed an impossibly old age. Yet, here I am and twenty-five now seems quite young.
Am I any wiser now than I was when I was twenty-five? I’m not sure. I’m certainly more tired! I suppose if I have learned anything it is to be open to surprise. Life, in my experience, rarely goes in the way that one imagines. When I was twenty-five, I could not have imagined I would end up being a priest in the Church of England. I could barely imagine being a writer and most definitely not a regular broadcaster. So, here’s to all of us having the courage to embrace surprise! Let us be alert to the God who is to be found in the midst of surprise, at whatever age we reach.
Unlike my fortieth, I don’t plan to have a huge party for my fiftieth. I loved ‘Mann40’, but I’m looking for a different tenor to my celebrations this year. So, do watch this space! I hope and trust we can find some good ways to celebrate my own personal landmark together at St Nick’s, but I also plan to have some quality family time and some ‘me’ time. For once, I hope to actually take my holiday allocation for the year!
2020 also seems significant because it feels to me – and feel free to laugh at this – as if we are somehow living ‘in the future’. I mean, ‘2020’ seems to me like a date drawn from science-fiction. When I was kid, I remember thinking – as a result of watching sci-fi on TV and at the cinema – that ‘1999’ or ‘2019’ were impossibly far in the future. I imagined that by the time we reached 2020 we’d have flying cars and people would be living on Mars! Clearly, we are a long way away from that reality. I also find it a bit disconcerting that – for example – 1990 (which seems like yesterday to me) is now thirty years ago. I appreciate that for some of you, who are a good deal older than me, it must feel strange to think that the outbreak of the Second World War is over eighty years ago.
I suppose I’m saying that time makes fools of us all. However, in Jesus Christ we have our true anchor. As we say, ‘Jesus Christ: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow’. And though our personal relationships with him may change over time and certainly the Church changes over time, Christ is that solid hope in which we can trust.
I think the trustworthiness of Christ matters even more now than it ever did. While the world has faced some extraordinary challenges over the millennia, and this nation has faced some major challenges too, I sense that the coming decade will be a tough one. Ours is a world facing extraordinary pressures in the face of climate change, as well political and cultural challenges that might take us in some strange and frightening directions.
Yet, still we say, ‘Christ: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow’. I hope this isn’t some sort of cheap mantra, but actually is both a reminder of the deep structure of our world and a call to action. What I mean is, if we truly believe in Christ’s abundant love then we will not simply be passive passengers in this world, but his active agents and disciples. Our faith will have effects on how we live.
For, when we claim that Christ is at the very heart of reality, we are called into fuller relationship with him: We are invited to demonstrate the love, hope and faith that is God’s. We are invited to hunger for justice, peace and reconciliation and live in such a way that God’s Kingdom is more clearly revealed.
I find this exciting and daunting, especially when I feel tired or overwhelmed. However, this way of living in Christ is never something we do alone. Firstly, the Spirit is there to encourage us and help us grow into Christ’s likeness. Equally, we find that we live out this life in God in community and company. In being called to be the Body of Christ we do so as part of that Body. We simply need to figure which part and how we work alongside others.
Here’s to a blessed and fulfilling New Year