Sunday, January 3, 2021
Second Sunday after Christmas
Pastor Scott Landis
Even though the New Year’s holiday is now behind us, it’s still close enough to think about the shift that many of us are hoping for. 2020 has been a momentous year. Some have referred to it as a disastrous year and have cursed it and bid it good riddance as we transition into a new year. “2021 has got to be better,” we quip – we hope.
I will not deny anyone’s right to deride and run from the year now waning while holding out hope that the new one now waxing has got to be better. Then again, I’ve lived long enough to know this belief-cycle is repeated almost every year. Whether we are simply eternally optimistic or just plain fooling ourselves, we always seem to believe that our future is going to be far better than our current situation. I wonder whether it might do us good to reframe that fantasy and, instead, think about what we have learned, how we have grown, in what ways we have improved in spite of the difficulties this year has presented.
It might do us some good to think about some of the gifts we have received in this challenging year. Here are a few of my own observations:
1. I moved to a beautiful new condo in Kīhei, and I have the luxury of falling asleep each night to the sound of waves, and then awaken each day to a remarkable view of the ocean.
2. I regularly swim with turtles in the water just across the street from my home.
3. I get to swim a couple of times each week at the Kīhei pool – and it’s free!
4. I have not worn shoes in 10 months – only bare feet and “slippas” (flip-flops).
5. I get to preach each week in bare feet and an aloha shirt!
6. I have taken a course in Hawaiian language – and am slowly learning the intricacies of `ōlelo Hawaii – the pronunciation of which has been the source of much laughter.
7. I have seen some of the most beautiful sunsets, sunrises, moonsets, and rainbows I have ever seen in my life.
8. I have become a master at Zoom.
9. I have learned that one can lead worship from a condo office with no one present except my husband, Randy, to video – and still reach hundreds of viewers.
10. I have discovered that God is present in worship whether we are gathered or scattered.
11. I have learned the fun of going “Facebook Live.”
12. I have learned the differences between “number of new cases” and “rate of infection” as the report on the Covid-19 “Dashboard” has become a daily part of my life.
13. I have learned how to embrace (and be embraced) by a congregation on-line, many of whom I have never met in person.
14. I have learned about and experienced some beautiful Hawaiian virtues: pono, kuleana, mālama, and aloha.
15. I have discovered the special gift of giving and receiving lei.
16. I have discovered that shave ice (sic) IS really all it’s cracked up to be, that poi is not awful, and breadfruit (ulu) is a thing, mangos are the zucchini of Hawaii, and apple bananas are the best.
17. And, I’ve discovered that a walk on the beach is a wonderful cure for stress and a great way to sort things out.
Those are just a few of my learnings. Sure, 2020 has been awful in many ways. The pandemic has overshadowed everything and has limited or curtailed many of the things we have previously taken for granted or wanted to do. But there has been a lot given to me that I am really grateful for.
I, too, long for ease of travel, visiting, dining out, and gatherings that are not restricted by proper physical distancing, and Lord knows I want to sing again in worship! But, I have learned more about the resilience of the human spirit this year than in any I can remember. I have seen many work tirelessly to combat a virus that continues to confound us in so many ways. I have seen a small church on a small island band together and do whatever we can to keep our `ohana intact by reaching out in ways we never knew were possible before. I have experienced the generosity, love, and prayers of so many. I have received a word of encouragement just when I needed it the most – whether in a phone call, an email, or a text – it was just what I needed reassuring me that what I am doing is making a difference. [Pause]
It has been said that “it is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.” The scriptures we have read today – especially the prologue of the gospel of John – bring that to life in exciting and profound ways. John, (both the gospel writer and the baptizer) were midwives in the transition from what was – to what was JUST about to happen. They stood in this doorway or “limina” of change. Jesus was about to begin his public ministry as the Word was about to become flesh – thereby dwelling in humanity.
Those who listened to John, who came to hear his message and be baptized by him in order to prepare for the coming one had no idea what was about to unfold. But they had hope. The same eternal hope that had carried their parents, and their parent’s parents, and the many generations who preceded them as they awaited the Messiah of the prophet’s predictions.
It was their eternal hope that encouraged them to move forward – that inspired them not only to light a candle instead of cursing the darkness, but to look continuously for THE Light – the light that the darkness could not overcome.
All of this gives me hope that even during challenging times, we are blessed, with grace upon grace, and are being guided by the God who has numbered every hair on our head and knows our every need.
So instead of cursing, I will merely say, “So long, 2020. Thank you for what you have given. It’s been quite a ride. Surely one I will never forget. – And welcome 2021. There’s no telling what you will bring, but I am confident it will stretch and open me to new learning, growth, and much needed improvement.”
This year has been challenging year in so many ways and I will not belittle the pain many have experienced in the days now past. BUT as we look with hope for brighter days ahead – let us never forget – God is in the darkness JUST AS God is in the light.
As John reminds us: No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the father’s heart, who has made him known.
Let us draw near to that light – THE light – and see with renewed vision our future of hope – our eternal hope.