Dear Christ the Redeemer family,

I imagine most everyone is ready to get on to 2021. About two weeks ago the Atlantic had a piece entitled “The Year We Lost”. It began, “The year 2020 has given more to the authors of history textbooks than it has to the writers of diaries,” and continued, “Decades from now, scholars will have a wealth of material for their accounts of this pivotal time, but when the people who lived through it look back on the timelines of their personal lives, many of them will find a gap where 2020 should be.” Despite all the turmoil and other events of 2020, for many people in their personal lives they are left with an abiding sense of loss.

It’s inevitable I suppose to be hoping that next year will be better, but as natural as the impulse is, I find that New Year’s Day holds profound hope for a different reason. January 1st is also the Eighth Day of Christmas and is, therefore, the celebration of the Circumcision and Holy Name of Our Lord Jesus Christ, i.e., the day on which Jesus was taken by Joseph and Mary to be circumcised and named. Even within the short window of 12 days to celebrate his birth, already the future revealing his purpose in coming is present.

In the ancient Near East (the larger world in which our Hebrew parents in the faith were situated), when a covenant was made it was “cut”. In the Hebrew scriptures, the Old Testament, the phrase that means “to cut a covenant” was a technical term. The idea was straightforward, if fearsome: the lesser king, suing for peace, would witness animals being cut in half and then would walk the path made between their laid-out carcass halves, in the presence of the greater king, thereby committing to abide the terms of the covenant-treaty or suffer the same gruesome fate. This is played out in Genesis 15 in what is perhaps the most poignant prophetic foreshadowing of the Gospel: Abram is told to cut and lay out certain beast carcasses; he is then overwhelmed by a deep sleep, a “dreadful and great darkness”, an experience analogous to death. But then the surprise! A smoking firepot passes through the carcasses, and the assumed trajectory of this world, where might makes right and the powerful lord it over the subjugated, is reversed: God’s glory is present, though contained, and God promises to take it on himself to see the covenant fulfilled.

This is the promise and covenant fulfilled in the Holy Name “Jesus” and “Emmanuel”. The name “Jesus” comes from the root meaning “to deliver”. Emmanuel means “God with us”.

So, celebrating New Year’s? Fine. No problem. Looking forward to a new lap around the sun? This year of all years, indeed!

But the greater hope and the profounder reality is that, whatever 2021 may bring, God is with us; He loves us; He is for us; He has acted on his own initiative, to his own great cost to bring us to Himself. Nothing can change that, and that is extremely good news.

I have found in these days that my soul oft is dry and weary, but God in his graciousness has been recalling this little unit (if you will) of His Word to my heart and mind:

Rejoice always,
Pray without ceasing,
Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.

(By the way, I can’t prove it yet but I believe “this is the will…” applies to all three, that they work together.)

Perhaps the greater challenge is to live in the moment, today, in his presence, accepting his love.

May Jesus Christ be praised,