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Hopes and Fears



The clock strikes midnight on New Year’s Eve. Fireworks light up the skies. Bang! Pop! After an off-key rendering of Auld Lang Syne, you hear the same few sentiments that seem to come each year.


‘Happy New Year!’


‘Glad this year is behind us!’


‘A fresh start!’


‘I hope this coming year is a good one!’


For those of us who have been experiencing a difficult time, the blank page of a new year can hold out so much promise. Perhaps that’s you. Maybe you have been experiencing a frustrating season of ministry, navigating conflict and disunity; or your family has been going through hardship or suffering. Or perhaps, more simply, it has been a relentless Christmas period and you are just hoping for a restful January when it’s all over.


It is easy to put our hopes for rest, refreshment and, ultimately, joy in the prospect of the weeks and months to come. A blank calendar of endless possibility, underpinned by the world’s insidious idea that ‘new is always better’ and ‘the grass is always greener on the other side’.


As leaders, we know this isn’t where our hope should hang, but in day-to-day terms, it is easy for our hearts to long for these things to be the answer to our struggles. As I reflected on this in my own life recently, a familiar line from a traditional carol took on new weight.


The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.

O Little Town of Bethlehem


HOPES AND FEARS . . .

What are you hoping for right now? What is causing you to fear? What is occupying your waking thoughts and nightly dreams? Or as a doctor might ask, ‘Tell me, where does it hurt right now?’


The end of the year is often a time when we take stock, but all that ‘stock-taking’ can have a dangerous by-product. It can lead to us looking too long at our world and our circumstances. As we take inventory of our life and the lives of those we lead, we can easily become overwhelmed by the stains of sin and the fall. Worse still, we may find ourselves drawing comparisons with others. If we’re not careful, our vision can become full of either . . .


1) The things we don’t see—the places of disappointment and perceived lack. All the things we wish we could change.


OR


2) The approaching change we are anticipating, which may be making us feel anxious. (I have stood on the cusp of more than one year, thinking, ‘This is going to be hard; I wish I could stop time and stay where I am’.)


. . . OF ALL THE YEARS . . .

When our eyes are on this world, all we can see is change—the change we long for and the change we don’t want. Placing our hopes on the changing of a year is a lot like standing on shifting sands and trying to find firm footing. But when we lift our eyes to our Lord, we see what is unchanging and we find the stability and sure-footedness we are seeking.


Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and for ever.

Heb 13.8


As a well-known song so famously puts it,


On Christ the solid rock I stand | All other ground is sinking sand.

My Hope is Built on Nothing Less


Throughout history, there has never been a day when God has not been faithful to his promises. There has never been a day when God has not been at work delivering his plan of salvation for his people, for you. There has never been a moment, whether the last year has been good or bad to you, when God has not been with you.


And there never will be.


We know all this—it is nothing new—and yet somehow, we can so easily lose sight of it. We point others to the hope of Jesus, but in subtle ways our own hopes and fears become tied to the fickle things of this world. This happens even though we know they can never provide us with the stability and joy we desire.


We need to anchor our hopes and fears in our Lord who is ‘my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.’ (Ps 18.2)


Even if your whole world changes in 2024, God does not. In him you can take refuge when it all feels too much. He is your stronghold when it seems that everything is against you. He is your source of strength when you are running dry.


Let us lift our eyes from our circumstances and set them firmly back on our Saviour.


. . . ARE MET IN THEE TONIGHT

Somewhere in that little town of Bethlehem, a baby was born. Resting on his tiny shoulders were the hopes of God’s people who had been waiting centuries for the arrival of the Messiah. For generations, they had been waiting for God to step in and make everything right. They had been eagerly expecting the day when God would bring an end to their pain, sadness, and fatigue. They may even have been people who faced the turning of each year muttering to each other, “Maybe this year!? Maybe this year salvation will come.”


In that little town of Bethlehem, their hopes were met and their fears alleviated as the unchanging God entered our changeable world. For Christ came to live, die, and rise again . . . and for us, that changes everything!


We cannot guarantee that the new year will be happy. Nor can we be sure that the start will be fresh, or that 2024 will be a good year. But we can make a choice about where we seek our rest, refreshment, and joy. We can hold onto our unchangeable Saviour, who holds us fast in the midst of a changing world.


So do join me as I grasp tightly to him and walk into this new year.

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