Becky and I recently watched a BBC mini-series produced in 2014 during the centennial of the beginning of the First World War. The Passing Bells does not necessarily live up to its IMDB description of being “an epic historical drama spanning the five years of the First World War, as seen through the eyes of two ordinary young soldiers.” Less than epic and too-intentionally-meaningful, each episode takes place in one of the five years of the Great War as the two ordinary soldiers, one German and one English, go from being innocent August 1914 volunteers to hardened and discouraged veterans.
In Episode 4 – 1917 – Thomas, the English soldier befriends too-young-to-enlist, but now in the trenches, 16-year-old Derek. In one scene Thomas, who has been encouraging and protecting Derek, dumps all his despair. Of the war to end all wars he asks, “What if it never ends?” Derek becomes the encourager, and says, “Wars end. It will. It has to.”
For some of us, it seems as if the most encouraging thing we can say about 2020 is “Years end. 2020 will end. It has to.”
Mustering all our courage, we might even say, “Pandemics end. The Covid-19 pandemic will end. It has to.”
2020 is ending. It has to. But dare we say, “Happy New Year!” as we greet 2021? Yes, let’s greet the new year with hope, a hope that is able to withstand all the “what ifs” we may ask of it. What if 2021…? So, Happy New Year*, asterisk included. Happy New Year!*
*Happy New Year, come what may.
*Happy New Year, no matter how worrisome the “what if.”
I can live with the asterisk. In fact, there may be something good about living with such an asterisk.
With one notable exception, one asterisk, I have enjoyed good health all my life. The details don’t matter, but eighteen years ago my assumption of good health was shattered by an unexpected cancer diagnosis that came after what I thought would be a routine test. Suffice it to say the diagnosis was a serious threat to my health and, in fact, my life. For the next eighteen months, I would see more medical professionals than I had seen before or have seen since. Even now at my annual checkup when the doctor or nurse asks how I’m feeling, I answer, “Fine!” with an unspoken asterisk. *Fine, unless you find something I know nothing about. *Fine, but what if…”
I outlived the cancer diagnosis, though not everyone who is diagnosed with cancer ends up outliving it. It took some time, months or years, depending on who you listen to, for it to become apparent that I’d outlive my cancer diagnosis. A time of uncertainty. A time when every “How are you doing?” was answered, “fine” with an unspoken asterisk.
Something good came of living with that asterisk. Certainty was the unexpected gift of that time of uncertainty, and it came early in the journey. When my health and my physical well-being were still uncertain, God poured the certainty of his love and of life beyond the valley of the shadow of death into my life in unexpected ways. Through his Word, through the counsel of wise and faithful friends, through that still small voice of calm, he spoke. Parse it as you will, there was to be a happy ending to this story.
Not everyone we know will have survived Covid-19 or 2020, for that matter. The asterisk attached to “Happy New Year, 2021” looms large.
Years end. They have to. Pandemics end. They have to. 2020 will end. The Covid-19 pandemic will end. They have to. Uncertainty lurks as we greet 2021, however. What if?
God answered the prophet Isaiah’s what ifs, his fear of an uncertain future, and he answers the uncertainty of 2021:
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.
For I am the LORD your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.” (Isaiah 43:1-3)
Happy New Year*
*Come what may, no matter the what ifs.
Happy New Year*
*We have a sure and steadfast anchor for our souls (Hebrews 6:19).
Happy New Year!