OK, it’s obviously both. As the world travelled through the magic numbers of 00.00 01 2017 (and accepting it was one second late this year) I doubt whether it was instantaneously and miraculously transformed into Paradise. One only had to switch on the news, and even now days later, to see that it hadn’t. Human beings continue to treat each other both unimaginably cruelly and also with amazing self-sacrifice – whilst most of us muddle along with flashes of heroism and sadly more often selfishness and self-preservation. The magic chimes of Big Ben do seem to give an opportunity for New Year’s Resolutions, which I guess vary tremendously in their success to be kept up and vary in their unforeseen consequences. I gave up on resolutions the year that mine lasted the total time of 30 minutes! (No, I am not going to confess in public what it was, and no, I don’t need praying over!)
Having said all that, if 2016 became the “I wasn’t expecting that!” year – I really feel that despite all the same old problems and challenges facing us, there are also many situations where there seems to be grounds for hope. Often they are where the material world is in bad shape, the poorest communities, the areas affected worst from natural disasters, areas, even whole countries devastated by war, the most vulnerable in our society, and individuals most struggling with ill-health and disability. Is it because many people so afflicted have discovered they cannot put their hope in the material world, or even those politicians and professionals who promise things will get better.
This week I have returned to Habbakuk, as you do, and the awesome passage at the end of the book (Chapter 3:17-20, NIV): “Though the fig tree does not bud, and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Saviour. The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to tread on the heights.”
For someone whose life seems as though they are in a pit – to be able to imagine scaling the mountain heights – wow, there’s Hope!
And how do I respond each year? No resolutions, but a recommitment to God by using one of the greatest prayers ever written – the one in the Methodist Covenant Service – try it for yourself!
“I am no longer my own, but yours.
Put me to what you will, rank me with whom you will;
put me to doing, put me to suffering;
let me be employed for you, or laid aside for you,
exalted for you, or brought low for you;
let me be full, let me be empty,
let me have all things, let me have nothing:
I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things to your pleasure and disposal.
And now, glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
you are mine and I am yours. So be it.
And the covenant now made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.”
In the ever-new but same old love of God