01 January 2021
Some thoughts on the new year
By the Revd Ruth Gee, Assistant Secretary of the Conference
In the early, dark hours of this morning, fireworks brightened the night sky and in countries around the world people have welcomed the new year. Many have said that they could not wait to say goodbye to 2020 but before we join in too easily we should not forget that there have been reasons to be joyful and thankful even in the midst of fear and uncertainty. Babies have been born, anniversaries celebrated, milestones reached and new discoveries made.
In December my thoughts have turned often to Mary, the mother of Jesus and especially to two descriptions of her in the stories in the Gospel of Luke. When Mary learned that she had been chosen by God for a daunting and unexpected role she was “Much perplexed” (Luke 1:29). The more accurate meaning of that phrase is “greatly troubled” and well she might be. Until that moment Mary had a very good idea of what her future held: marriage to Joseph, probably children to bear and raise, and life in Nazareth as the wife of a respected artisan. Now, nothing was certain, nothing was predictable, she would have to respond to events as they unfolded working it out as she went along. It was not even certain that she would have anyone to support her on this strange journey.
I believe that, like Mary, many of us have felt and still feel much perplexed as we have faced and are still facing an uncertain future because of an unpredictable virus, changes in political and economic relationships and a global environmental crisis.
Luke goes on to tell us that after Jesus was born and the shepherds had visited, Mary “pondered in her heart.” Another way of saying this is that Mary was tossing all these things together in her heart. She was listening to what the shepherds told her, recalling all that had happened, and in the context of her experiences and those of her community, of what she knew of the world, she was trying to make some sense of it all. Mary went on pondering and we have been pondering as we have worked out how to respond as followers of Jesus Christ in these times to these new and unexpected challenges. Ministers and lay leaders have learned new skills, responded in their local communities, reached out to those most in need and brought light into dark places. It has not been easy but much has been achieved, sung and unsung. Many are very tired. Pondering and responding is hard work.
We know that God is with us but it does not always feel this way and for those around us it can seem impossible to believe in God when their experience might include fear, separation, bereavement and disappointment. At times we may want to say with the Psalmist, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Psalm 22:1) The Psalmist fell back on knowledge of what God had done in the past, on the faith stories of the community, and we do so as well. We know God is with us and sometimes through saying it we remind ourselves that we believe it.
God is with us in our perplexity and our pondering. With this assurance we go into the new year thankfully, hopefully, and with deep joy.
Emmanuel, God with us, as we begin this new year we pray that through our perplexity and pondering we will come to know you more deeply and follow you more closely so that, through us others will come to know your love, justice and peace. Amen.