by Joshua Chong, Kota Kemuning church of Christ
As I take on the baton of the Communications Ministry from the able hands of bro Willy Ling, I’d like to begin by sharing a new year’s message for this first bulletin of 2021.
It is inevitable that we reflect on the year that was as we enter the year to come. While no one would say 2020 was “forgettable”, it has earned its infamy for all the wrong reasons.
In a year filled with so much chaos and tragedy, so seemingly devoid of hope and joy, we can barely understand it, let alone come to terms with it. It is telling that the bushfires in Australia around January 2020, ordinarily seen as a catastrophe, now seem a forgettable transgression compared to what came after.
Humanity’s prolonged crisis in the face of a global pandemic is reflected in what we use to describe, label and communicate: words. Oxford Language, which owns the definitive Oxford English Dictionary, this year noted so many new words entering our common parlance that it felt the year “cannot be neatly accommodate in a word of the year’”.
Its report, “Words of an unprecedented year” explored some of the words and phrases born out of our shared adversity. Words such as pandemic, Covid-19, lockdown, Zoom, webinar, work from home, MCO, social distancing, frontliners, and many others are now, unfortunately, all too familiar. Social and political movements and events also grabbed our attention, reflected in terms like impeachment, acquittal, black lives matter and mail-in voting.
These words, themselves signifiers of much trouble, have yet a darker subtext: they speak of the pain of lost jobs, closed businesses and failing economies, a frightening death toll, racial inequality, mental health problems and widespread feelings of exhaustion, anxiety, loneliness and fear.
For Christians, we struggled with not being able to worship in our usual locations and being cut off from our usual support structures – fellowship with each other.
This continued isolation has a bizarre effect of being both a shared and alienating experience. We know we’re all in the same boat, but it may feel like we’re all islands on our own.
From all this comes hopelessness – things seem like they won’t get better. In dark times like these, we turn to more ancient words, words lit by inspiration, to comfort and enlighten.
Hopelessness, like all of human experience, is not unique to our times. In Exodus 14:5-16, we read of how the Israelites, fleeing from Egyptian slavery, trembled between Pharaoh’s army and an impassable Red Sea. Gnawed by fear, they cursed Moses, asking, “Were there no graves in Egypt that you took us to die in the wilderness?”
Yet that moment of seeming defeat was but the verge of vindication and victory – we know the sea parted and the army consumed. As the saying goes, it is darkest before the light breaks the dawn.
We also learn from what is not recorded– the “lost years” between the last prophet Malachi and the birth of Jesus. This was a prolonged period of hopelessness– in waiting for their promised Messiah for 400 years and now captive under Roman rule, generations of Israelites must have asked, “Has God left us to die in this spiritual wilderness?”
Yet, God kept His promises. Our Saviour came to be the way, the truth and the life (John 14:6), to be the mediator of a new covenant came to conquer death and enable reconciliation (Hebrews 9:15). The Light of the World (John 8:12) came to save Jew and Gentile.
Jesus Himself was not spared pain and hopelessness. Just before His arrest, in agony He prayed, “Let this cup pass from me.”(Luke 22:41- 42). Soon after that, another moment of great anguish: before He died, Jesus cried out: “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matthew 37:45-46).
Obviously, God never forsook His Son, but at that moment, it may have felt that way. He who claimed to be King of the Jews, looked least powerful beaten and bruised upon the Cross.
And yet this, too, was but another moment on the cusp of glory and triumph –upon His death, an earthquake occurred, the veil in the temple was split and graves opened. Christ’s own grave would open too – from His rising, the ultimate hope over sin and death (1 Thessalonians 4:13-14).
As the basis of our salvation, Christ is now the glorious focus of our hope (I Peter 1:13). But we take comfort that while on earth, the humbled Christ was human enough to feel hopelessness. We too, are not to be ashamed if we feel that way at times.
What can we do when hope is in short supply?
Firstly, we can ask for hope (Matthew 7:7-9) in prayer. It may seem odd to ask for hope, but if it is a spiritual need, then our Father will provide it. In times of darkness, ask for more faith and hope to carry us through the night.
Secondly, share and spread hope. Our physical isolation should not be a reason to be absent from our shared thoughts, prayers and words. Technology allows us to keep in touch even if physical touch isn’t possible. Many us of may feel isolation, anxiety and fear – let us comfort and assure each other we have each other to fall back on (I Thessalonians 5:11). In times of loneliness, a few kind words can go a long way.
As we are on the cusp of the new year, uncertainty may fill us with dread. We have no gift of foresight, but hindsight through scripture teaches that times of hopelessness always end, conquered by God’s glory, showing that He was in control all along. Be it for an hour’s trembling, or centuries of longing, we see that God has always been faithful to keep His promises in His own time, and will not abandon us.
Paul in II Corinthians 4:16-18, calls us to look not at temporal things, but at eternal things unseen. Let us build into our outlook a hope for redemption that transcends fear of death, by way of a spiritual afterlife (Romans 8:23-25). This hope is unscathed by any physical disease or destruction.
I end with this passage of exhortation for the coming year from Hebrews 10:23-25: “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.”
Indeed, while we cannot assemble as we would like, we can still exhort, stir up good words and hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering. As God commanded Moses before he parted the Red Sea, “Tell the children of Israel to go forward.” (Exodus 14:15).
This command stands today amidst our difficult times. Let us go forward, still fulfilling our calling and duties, knowing Who is behind us. I wish all of you a very Happy New Year 2021, and may God bless you.