~ Isaiah 60:1-6/Matthew 2:9-11 ~
Just a year ago on this Sunday, which now seems like a lifetime ago, I preached about vision – 2020 vision, which, it turns out, was a popular metaphor amongst us preachers. Going into 2020, we took the verbiage of Isaiah – “Arise, shine; for your light has come…lift up your eyes and look around” – and Matthew – “and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen” – and we, I, worked it for all its worth. And I asked the question, “How is our vision? Can we see clearly?” Might we have 2020 vision? Little did we know.
Of course, this year, this Epiphany Sunday, we actually have a metaphor that can be used literally – hindsight is 2020. We are in a place to look back on this past year, 2020, and say, “good riddance.”
Last year I asked whether our vision going forward can be clear and lighted. Or will it be blurry, will we be stumbling around in the dark? Well, as we look back on this past year it does seem to be just one big blur! Day after day after day the same, yes, dreary and monotonous existence of the pandemic and, yes, the terrible response to it by our government. We really don’t want to dwell on the particulars. Instead, can’t we just move on into 2021 hoping for better? Can this new year be what we had initially hoped for last year?
Even happenings in 2020 that are cause for celebration were muted. Last year at this time Linda and I were gearing up for an extended 3-month sabbatical in New Zealand. And we were able to go and had a wonderful experience…for two of those three months. Then COVID hit New Zealand, as it did everywhere, and we had to come home early. A great experience but not as full as we had intended.
And then in June came our 50th wedding anniversary. We had planned a week at a Vermont resort with our kids and grandkids to celebrate this momentous event. Instead, we posted an announcement on Facebook and vowed to do it for real in 2021. We figure our 51st anniversary is just as important as the 50th!
Of course, as a church we did Zoom. We had to stop seeing each other face-to-face, had to stop hugging. Wow, did we miss that. We did more than 40 services of worship on Zoom in 2020! And, yes, we will continue that practice until we all feel safe. Those vaccines can’t come soon enough.
I must say that even before everything blew up, going into 2020 did not foster a clear way forward. We had concerns. The times were confusing, the landscape a chaotic mess. We, indeed, had serious questions. As justice was perverted, we asked if it could be straightened out. But things got worse. If peace were impossible due to ongoing war and violence, we just might grow weary of trying. And the situation got worse. As climate change deniers seemed to hold too much power, we wondered if we can save the planet. And yet, in 2020, we experienced the most unbelievable fire season, making us realize that addressing climate change is not an option. As the wealthy got wealthier and the poor got poorer, solutions seemed daunting. And the gap increased even more. As white nationalism grew in numbers and fervency, looking to turn around our racialized culture seemed overwhelming. And then George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and Rayshard Brooks happened making the issue even more urgent. Hard-won advancements for gender equality and women’s reproductive rights looked way to vulnerable in the legal system of a year ago. And then RBG passed away and things got even more scarily tenuous. As many Christians voiced solidarity with hate and wanton evil, we wondered if there was any place where we could still claim the name ‘Christian’ or even wanted to. And then, of course, it got even crazier as they dug in harder, more defiantly, causing the pandemic to be even more devastating than it needed to be, all exasperated even more by a national administration looking only to score cheap political point rather than deal with the virus seriously and effectively. Yes, COVID-19 was a terrible thing, it still is, but it was made worse by a wanton disregard for human life by this president. It didn’t have to be this way. But hindsight is 2020.
Or is it? One of the aspects of hindsight that sociologists are prone to point out is the notion of “hindsight bias.” This is expressed in the phrase, “I knew that was going to happen.” Or “I didn’t say anything at the time, but I knew that was going to happen.” We all like to think, being astute observers of the world or human nature, that we could have predicted what was going to happen.
“I knew their relationship wasn’t going to work out.”
“Then why didn’t you say anything?”
I think it is safe to say that none of us knew any of what happened in 2020 was going to happen. It’s like the most worthless purchase made last January was a daily planner. Nobody could have predicted how this past year was going to play out.
But you know what? Here we are in January 2021. We somehow made it through the worst year of our lives. At least that’s what most people are saying. This was the worst year of our lives. It can’t get any worse, can it?
Yet, given all that, we, you and I, have much to be thankful for and much to hope for. Yes, vaccines are coming. Yes, a new administration, despite empty protestations by those who can’t accept reality. Yes, a renewed, reinvigorated, movement to address racial inequities and change and heal our culture. Yes, a new commitment to making our world safe for humans and other living creatures. Yes, we continue to be the church, even if we can only meet via Zoom for a while yet.
Yes, we continue to follow Jesus. We continue to take Jesus seriously by seeking to live out his radical, counter-cultural agenda. We make this commitment knowing that we don’t know how it will all play out. We didn’t have 2020 vision last year; we certainly don’t have 2021 vision this year. But we continue to live in the light of Christ. Yes, there may be dark days yet ahead. But may we not be afraid of the dark but walk in the light that shines in us. As the prophet says, “Lift up your eyes and look around.” When we do that, as he says, “then you shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and rejoice.” Or as Matthew says of the magi, “there, ahead of them, went the star that had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was…they were overwhelmed with joy.” May we also follow that star. Amen.