Shift Into 2021
This week we turn the page to a new year. Most new years are full of optimism for the year ahead. 2020 was no exception.
Many churches began the year with a 2020 Vision series. But these were quickly abandoned. We couldn’t see what was coming.
2020 has been a doozy of a year. Who could have seen what was coming? Global pandemic, economic uncertainty, race relations, a heated election, division, grief. So much grief. 2020 has been a hard year.
As we head into 2021, people are desperate for a better year. But I don’t see the normal optimism. We’re entering the new year with collective cynicism. This year has to be better than last year, right? RIGHT?
I’ve been thinking about how we can have a better year, even with all that is out of our control. I offer 4 Shifts to make as we start 2021 - shifts for a better year and a better world.
1. Shift from Grumbling to Gratitude
In 2020 I noticed that some people were always complaining about what they couldn’t do. Others were grateful for what they could do. Guess which ones had a better year?
Paul instructs us to “Do everything without grumbling and arguing” (Philippians 2:14) and to “Give thanks in every situation because this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).
I listen to a podcast about pens. (I know… nerd alert, right?) One of the hosts broke his wrist on his writing hand. This week he was sharing his frustration with all the things he is unable to do. The other host suggested, instead of focusing on what he can’t do, to focus instead on what he is still able to do.
2. Shift from Division to Discussion
For years I’ve been concerned about the divisions that are growing in our country and in the church. These divisions are magnified by our inability to have meaningful discussion about important issues. 2020 has accelerated this problem.
This year, what if we engaged in respectful discussion across divisions? James told his church during a time of great difficulty that “everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to grow angry” (James 1:19). What a timely reminder for us.
Paul tells the church in Ephesus to “make an effort to preserve the unity of the Spirit with the peace that ties you together” (Ephesians 4:3).
Let’s make an effort in 2021.
3. Shift from Rights to Responsibilities
2020 has been filled with the conflict over individual rights vs corporate responsibilities - the fight between me and we.
The bible has little to say about our rights and much to say about our responsibilities. Paul says, “Instead of each person watching out for their own good, watch out for what is better for others” (Philippians 2:4). In fact, he says, “Don’t be in debt to anyone, except for the obligation to love each other. Whoever loves another person has fulfilled the Law” (Romans 13:8).
Let’s fulfill the obligation to love each other in 2021.
4. Shift from Weakness to Worship
In this week’s lectionary reading from Jeremiah 31, the prophet brings a message of hope to God’s people in a midst of a tumultuous time. “The LORD will rescue the people of Jacob and deliver them from the power of those stronger than they are” (Jeremiah 31:11). God promises to “turn their mourning into laughter and their sadness into joy” (Jeremiah 31:13). 2020 has been filled with much mourning and an almost daily reminder of the powers stronger than I am. In 2021 I choose to worship the Lord who rescues and delivers His people from powers stronger than they are.
The New Year is sandwiched between Christmas and Epiphany. Christmas celebrates Emmanuel, the good news of great joy that God is with us. Epiphany reminds us that Emmanuel’s light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot extinguish the light.
There’s no better place for a New Year.
In 1373, Julian of Norwich was sick and nearing death when she had a revelation of Christ. She had often wondered why God allowed sin in the world. Without sin, she thought, all would have been well. In her revelation, Christ reminded her that all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.
As we enter a new year, we know that the difficulties of 2020 don’t vanish with the turning of a calendar page. But we do know that through the work of Christ all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.