When I look back on 2008 I think of Dickens' famous line, "It was the best of times and the worst of times." Surely the year ended on the down beat, the worst of times. Economic markets tanking and new outbreaks of violence in the Middle East threatened the automatic optimism of a new year dawning. But not only the end of the year, all throughout the year plenty of bad news plagued us–the earth quake in China, the devastations of hurricanes in Haiti and the U.S., the deepening of famine in much of Africa, continuing deadly tribal conflicts all over the place, the worst ever outbreak of violence against Christ-followers in India. These represent tips of an iceberg of glacial proportions. More personally, I recall the challenge of caring for aging parents, the miscarriage of what would have been our first grandchild, the death of two wonderful young friends in what seemed like the prime of their lives, the loss of other loves ones and friends in ministry, and several disappointing or devastating setbacks in ministry. The list goes on. Plenty of bad news. So much, in fact, one might wonder if the iceberg is all there is.
Even so, it was the best of times. Every crisis became the showcase for beatiful expressions of greace and powerful initiatives for the good. Natural disasters called forth unnatural and heroic sacrifice to meet the needs of people. Untimely deaths revealed the values and verities of LIFE that is abundant and above time itself, and promise to accomplish more in time for the good. Demonic persecution of Christ-followers has only stiffened their resolve and demonstrated God's power overcoming in and through human weakness. More personally, God has consistently given wisdom and grace when most needed, another baby has been conceived and we will welcome him as our first grandchild to be born this spring, the loss of our friends has clarified our commitments and brought new focus to our living, and more times than I can count God has manifested his presence and power in mind-blowing ways as we have made room for him to do what only he can do. This has happened, in fact, so often that one might wonder if the end-that-is-really-the-new-beginning isn't just around the corner.
As 2009 begins what are we to make of this duality–the worst and best of times? Where will we focus? Is the world primarily the place where Murphy's law rules–if something bad can happen it will–with occasional exceptions to the rule? Or is the world the place where the Kingdom of Jesus has taken root, grows surely with increasing power, on a trajectory to recreate all that is, even as the vestiges of an old and dying age still resist?
It strikes me another way to ask the question is: will we fully embrace the gospel as our perspective for living? The gospel is the good news of what God has accomplished in the gift of Jesus, and all that his accomplishment means for all people and the whole universe. On the night Jesus was born the angel choir sang this good news to the shepherds, good news that would change everything. Most immediately, however, nothing much actually changed. At least, it seemed that way. It was still a world where both the best and worst of times occurred. Yet, in fact everything had changed. You had to have eyes to see and a heart to accept it, but everything had changed. Years later, enough years for the Christ-child to become a young adult, it was still that kind of world. When Jesus announced the good news (gospel) that the Kingdom was present and powerfully at work in his life and ministry, it was much the same. You had to have eyes to see it and a heart to accept it. Jesus finshed his ministry, offered his life in sacrifice on the cross, rose from the dead, commissioned his followers, poured out his Spirit on them, sent them and it still often looked the same. Any given year thereafter had its share of both the worst and the best of times. In every one of those years Christ-followers had to have eyes to see it and hearts to accept it.
In this respect, 2009 is no different for us. Everything has changed. The good news of Jesus conditions everything. The light shines in the darkness and there is simply no way the darkenss can overcome it. We have to have eyes to see it and hearts to accept it, but it is true nonetheless. Though the worst of times will come along with the best of times, the latter trumps the former. God is up to something so huge and so amazing that even the very worst of times pose no threat to his Kingdom and its certain triumph.
Will we have eyes to see it and hearts to accept it?