2016: Looking back / looking forward

December 23rd, 2016

Major news events of 2016

Our days often pass so quickly that it’s difficult to remember what happened last month, let alone one year ago. As we look toward the new year, we have the chance to review and reflect on what important events have happened in the past year, both in our personal lives and in public life.

While books could be written on all the events that have affected our nation and world in 2016, here are some of the most prominent:

  • In the winter, news broke of the rapid spread of the Zika virus in Brazil and of its possible link to microcephaly in newborns. Here in the United States, a state of emergency was declared by the state of Michigan because of contaminated drinking water in Flint. The death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia led to the Supreme Court only having eight of its nine Justice positions filled for the remainder of the year, after Senate Republicans announced they would not confirm any nomination made by President Obama. 
  • In the spring, the world was rocked by a series of terrorist attacks. In a single week in March, at least 149 people were killed in four separate attacks in Lahore, Pakistan; Iskandariyah, Iraq; Brussels, Belgium; and Istanbul, Turkey. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for three of the four attacks, with the Pakistan attack being carried out by a Sunni militant group. 
  • During the summer, many across the world were surprised by the outcome of a British election in which a majority voted for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union. In the United States, Philando Castile was fatally shot by police in a traffic stop, and his fiancée began live streaming on Facebook seconds after the shooting. The same week, an ambush of Dallas police officers during a peaceful demonstration against police brutality ended with five officers dead and seven additional officers injured. While economic and health concerns about the Rio Olympics dominated its coverage before the actual event, the games went on without any major hitches. 
  • In the fall, China and the United States, the world’s two largest carbon producers, joined other nations in ratifying the Paris climate agreement. About 600 Haitians died in Hurricane Matthew, and tens of thousands of people were left homeless there because of the storm. The Colombian government and the guerrilla group FARC signed a peace agreement, formally ending a half-century conflict that had left more than 220,000 people dead. The tumultuous and divisive US presidential election ended in Donald Trump being elected president, to the surprise of many pollsters. 

'Do Not Fear, For I Am With You'

“Do not fear, for I am with you,” declares Isaiah 41:10 (NRSV). “Do not be afraid, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.”

I take comfort in these words. Yet when I consider many of the things our country and world experienced in 2016 and how these experiences might continue to play out this year, one of my first emotions is fear.

Fear that hate speech and attacks on vulnerable people that spiked after the U.S. election will continue. Fear that when natural disasters strike the poorest nations, the world will not respond with enough generosity and justice. Fear that the actions of ISIS militants, as well as “self-radicalized” terrorists, will cause more of our brothers and sisters around the world to die. Fear that we will not adequately confront the crisis of persistent racism in our country. Fear that proposed policy changes will lead to refugees being turned away and people who are poor losing access to critical services that allow them to survive.

Yet these very fears, and other concerns about the year ahead, offer the chance to deepen our trust in God and to discern our calling. Through our journeys of prayer, dialogue, relationship and faithful action, God is present with us, leading us from fear to hope.

Looking forward in hope

The hope that Christians proclaim isn’t one that says nothing bad will happen to us or to others. Rather, it’s a hope that declares that God is still at work within the world and even works through us.

In her book Becoming Wise, religious journalist Krista Tippett says that hope “has nothing to do with wishing. It references reality at every turn and reveres truth. . . . Hope, like every virtue, is a choice that becomes a practice that becomes spiritual muscle memory. It’s a renewable resource for moving through life as it is, not as we wish it to be.”

Perhaps one of the most important questions to consider as we begin 2017 is what practices in our life nourish hope and which ones diminish hope. For example, columnist Jana Reiss discovered that in the weeks after the presidential election, fasting from Facebook became a spiritual practice, allowing her more time for prayer and reading “actual books.”

Deepening our face-to-face relationships with others, not just those who are like us but especially those we have differences with, can become a surprising source of hope. Serving others in a spirit of learning and humility also causes us to work our spiritual hope muscles. Advocating for peace and justice in the face of violence and inequality can nourish hope, especially when we remember that God’s call is to be faithful even when we’re not successful.

Discerning kairos moments in 2017

In the Greek language, there are two words for time: chronos and kairos. Chronos time is chronological time that can be measured by tools such as clocks and calendars. Kairos time is the right or opportune time for something to be done, including the right time for God to act. As blogger Ardis Nelson points out, the birth of Jesus was such a kairos moment, “so significant that it separated chronological time into B.C. and A.D.”

One way to become ready for the kairos moments that God will present to us this year is to reflect on what those moments may have been in 2016. Which moments in your life seemed like opportune times through which God used you in service to others? In the major events of our nation and world, where did you see people responding to God’s kairos moments? Who were the people who, in the face of crisis, sensed God’s call to reach out to others in compassion and courage? Who spoke God’s truth when it was challenging to hear?

The lectionary’s Gospel lesson for this Sunday is Matthew 25:31-46. In this passage, Jesus tells of the day of judgment when the sheep will be separated from the goats. The sheep are those people who, without even realizing it, have ministered to the Son of Man by feeding the hungry, clothing the naked and visiting the prisoners. The goats are those who, without knowing it, turned away from the Son of Man’s need by failing to welcome the stranger, give the thirsty something to drink or visit those who are sick or in prison.

This year will undoubtedly provide us — as individuals, as churches, and as communities — with countless opportunities to minister to Christ through relationships with our sisters and brothers in need. Relationships with people who are most vulnerable, the very people in whom Jesus told us that his presence can best be known, prepare us to sense kairos moments when God particularly needs us to act.

May God prepare our hearts, minds, and hands for the kairos moments of 2017. 

Be sure to check out FaithLink, a weekly downloadable discussion guide for classes and small groups.

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