Dear Friends in Christ,
When I first sat down to write this pastoral letter (for the January Highlights) I thought to myself: What a perfectly gloomy day to reflect on 2020. Outside the sky was heavy with moisture. A steady rain fell, transforming gutters into tiny torrents that spilled out onto the streets. Midday was as dark as twilight, which was quite fitting for the winter solstice. It was the shortest, darkest, dreariest, day of a particularly dark and dreary year. What better way to sum up 2020? Then something happened…it began to snow. The soggy landscape began to brighten as the snow accumulated. A rather confused hummingbird settled down for a moment on the tree outside my office window, scanning the landscape to take it all in. The transition to snow was like a changing of the guard—a blanket of snow relieving the gloomy rain for the next watch. The scene reminded me that the shortest day of the year is also the first step in the long march to summer.
Fast forward a day: after dealing with a bout of writer’s block, I am resuming my letter. This time, however, my window is full of blue skies and sunshine. The scene is so startlingly different that I can hardly comprehend that I am in the same place. How is it possible that the sun that so brightly shines today was also there yesterday when cloud and precipitation conspired to hide it from the earth?
These thoughts fill my mind as I reflect on the many sorrows and hardships of 2020 and ponder them along with my hopes for 2021. I think of how our family had planned to gather for two graduations and a wedding in 2020, only to have those plans thwarted by the pandemic. Yet even still, Willem and Arie completed their respective degrees and graduated, and Becca’s
youngest brother married his soul mate. Hope, love, and joy filled these moments, albeit veiled by computer screens and social distancing. In 2021, our family looks forward to two weddings and a graduation, and I wonder: How will we celebrate them? Will we gather in person, or by internet? Simply put: the answer to these questions is in God’s hands.
Life is not as predictable as the changing of the seasons or the advancement of time. We all look forward to 2021—if only to put 2020 in the rearview mirror— but the beginning of the year may not look much different than the end of 2020. In fact, it is almost certain that the first few months of the new year may be the darkest yet. Still, there is hope that the perfect storm that was 2020—pandemic, social unrest, deep political division, economic turmoil, isolation, and despair—will give way to fair skies in 2021, if not predictably, then perhaps eventually. The same God who spoke light and life into being is the same God whose light continues to shine in the darkness of human misery (see Genesis 1 and John 1).
In this season of Christmas and Epiphany—of incarnation and revelation—we celebrate the birth of Christ into our world and the hope of salvation He brings for all people. As followers of Jesus we look backward in wonder at the manger, even as we gaze forward in expectation to his return. In between these two Advents, the seasons will come and go, the rains and the snows will fall, dark days will give way to blue skies (and vice versa). We will experience joy and sorrow, beginnings, and endings, even pandemics and upheaval, but the constant through it all is the abiding presence of our Lord and Savior. And because of Jesus, the Word became flesh, we know for certain that God’s will for humankind is for love and peace to prevail, for justice and mercy, for healing, redemption, and reconciliation. May we all hold fast to these assurances from God as we enter the 2021st year of our Lord.