Looking back on 2020 with fresh joy
Updated: Dec 16, 2020
Look among the nations, and see; wonder and be astounded. For I am doing a work in your days that you would not believe if told. (Hab 1:5)
2020 is drawing to a close. Finally.
This infamous year has gained its place in history already, which is saying a lot. History is normally the product of looking back on something and seeing its effects on the present, but like a meteor, 2020 made its impact Live and In Real Time. We all can see clearly this is history in the making.
But what's infinitely fascinating to me is not how we'll look back on 2020, but on what this year means for our future. There's a lot of talk about "when things return to normal." Well, I'm not sure that things ever will. In fact, I hope they don't. Our glorious inheritance lies in the future, not in the past. The past, at least in the western world, is marked (in my opinion) by complacency, affluence, short-sightedness, and lukewarm love for God.
I believe God is going to use the events of this year to launch us into a new era of faith and revelation, to invite us to participate in the full extent of his love to the nations and the full glory of his Son to the world.
My first child was born in 2000. Then in 2001, while I was sitting out on the lawn in Fresno, California, reading Moo Baa La La La to my one year old, two planes flew into the twin towers in New York. This event stirred us out of that deep spiritual slumber...and then most of us went back to sleep. We adjusted our reality to the reality of terrorism and war...and then we hit auto-pilot again and went back to the comfortable monotony of making money, having fun.
In 2007, Steve Jobs went public with the very first personal smartphone. At the time we made jokes about it. "Ha! What's this I have now? A DUMB phone?? HAHAHAHHA!!!" At the time it was funny. Not anymore. (For more on this, please watch The Social Dilemma on Netflix if you can. Please.)
Bowed before our smartphones, we have fallen into a deep spiritual coma in which we have become literally addicted to the system of the world. In late 2019 I (and I imagine many others) began to pray for God to do something to wake us up. I grieved and lamented the bent posture of humanity, even as I hovered over my own smartphone, and I wondered how we were ever going to break free.
And then, like a meteor, 2020.
Astonish yourselves and be astonished; blind yourselves and be blind! Be drunk, but not with wine; stagger, but not with strong drink! For the Lord has poured out upon you a spirit of deep sleep, and has closed your eyes (the prophets), and covered your heads (the seers). And the vision of all this has become to you like the words of a book that is sealed. When men give it to one who can read, saying, “Read this,” he says, “I cannot, for it is sealed.” And when they give the book to one who cannot read, saying, “Read this,” he says, “I cannot read.” And the Lord said: “Because this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men, therefore, behold, I will again do wonderful things with this people, with wonder upon wonder; and the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the discernment of their discerning men shall be hidden.” (Isaiah 29:9-14)
The "wonderful thing" God had in mind in Isaiah's day had to do with a message...a story...a new reality that would spring out of something unbelieveable happening and then being told again and again and again:
In that day the deaf shall hear the words of a book, and out of their gloom and darkness the eyes of the blind shall see. The meek shall obtain fresh joy in the Lord...And those who go astray in spirit will come to understanding, and those who murmur will accept instruction. (Isaiah 29:18-19,24)
Quoting Isaiah, Paul tells us that the "wonderful thing" is the gospel, specifically the "word of the cross." The message of eternal life after death, of renewal after judgment, of relief and joy after suffering - and not just the message, as if it were a "what-if" but the news that this possibility has been proven a reality by what actually happened in real history.
For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” (1 Cor 1:18-19)
And this "wonderful thing" is "folly" because the cross (excuse me) sucked. You can cherish the old rugged cross if it saved you, Paul says here, but the cross was not (at the time) a thing to be overlaid in gold and sold retail for $24.99. The cross was a horror. And yet God used it to bring the world back to life. That's what God always does. He brings light out of darkness and life out of death.
That's what he's going to do with whatever happened to you that feels like the end, if in your meekness you are able to embrace the folly of suffering and accept the instruction God gives through it. Specifically, that instruction is this: trust my Son.
I believe that God is beginning to wake us up with the brilliant wisdom of his Son, the wisdom of the cross that confounds the ways we've already figured out how to prosper in this world.
2020 is here to remind us that God establishes sonship through suffering, endurance, and faith. He is inviting us to hear the wisdom of the cross, to be counted among the meek, and to receive the FRESH JOY that only our union with Christ - in his suffering and in his power over sin and death - can supply. This past year has, possibly against our wishes, invited us into a posture of meekness. And that's where gospel joy begins.
This year is a starting point. 2020 has given us vision, maybe for some of us 20/20 vision. We see things differently, more clearly. We see ourselves, we see, as if in an out of body experience, our own bent over posture and we feel the heaviness of the world weighing down on us. And the sight of this is good. It causes us to stop going through the motions and stand up and start walking.
But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. (Eph 5:13-15)
2020 is a beam of brilliant light, the heavenly light of reality as shown by God, and though it may be hot and a tad brighter than we might prefer, light wakes us up. God is opening the curtains and if you feel annoyed by the sun in your eyes, rejoice, because it's time to wake up and get moving! God is inviting his people into the fresh joy he has planned for a new day!