In wishing you a Happy New year, it would be very easy to do so with a heavy heart. As 2018 ended, it was very easy to feel that the world was falling apart. News from the United States has rarely been encouraging in recent years, and the new year has begun with the stalemate of what looks shortly to become the longest ever shutdown of the United States government. Here in the UK, our politics feels, at best, paralysed on all sides, and at worst, well let’s stop there. For me personally, 2018 ended with having a wisdom tooth extracted. While the dentist uses anaesthetic for the extraction, no such luxury is provided at the cash desk when they extract the fee.
However, 2018 was not all doom and gloom. There was good news in conservation:
Following China’s ban on ivory last year, 90% of Chinese support it, ivory demand has dropped by almost half, and poaching rates are falling in places like Kenya.
The United Nations said that the ozone hole would be fully healed over the Arctic and the northern hemisphere by the 2030s, and in the rest of the world by 2060.
There was good news in global health:
Rwanda became the first low income country to provide universal eye care to all of its citizens, by training 3,000 nurses in over 500 health clinics.
In 2018, New York and Virginia became the first two US states to enact laws requiring mental health education in schools.
There was good news in being a kinder and more tolerant people:
Morocco passed a landmark law that criminalises violence against women, and imposes harsh penalties on perpetrators.
Scotland became the first nation in the world to guarantee free sanitary products to all students, and India’s finance ministry announced it would scrap the 12% tax on all sanitary products.
I did, in fact, find 99 pieces of little reported good news in 2019, but I will spare you the rest now.
2018 was also a year with lots of good news locally. Top of the list was that we formed the Spire Church, and all is working out so well. In the Pilgrim project we secured Listed Buildings Consent, we passed the point of raising £100,000 from our own efforts, and we have lodged our application for planning permission.
Even when we see 2018 had many good things, 2019 did not start well, as we facing continuing uncertainty as a nation, and continue to be deeply divided. All of us were shocked to hear of the stabbing of Lee Pomeroy on Friday. We have grown accustomed to thinking of this as quite a safe area, and not expecting things like that. Our shock factor increased when we learned yesterday that the suspect was arrested in Farnham. What can we do? Let us not respond with fear or recrimination, but instead pray for the family who have been bereaved so suddenly. People suffering emptiness and anger, loss and pain, will need to find courage. And for the suspect arrested, we need to pray that evidence is assessed fairly, and that justice, not revenge, may take its course.
Our reading from Romans talked of hope. Not an abstract hope, based upon homespun philosophy and wishful thinking, but a hope based on Jesus Christ, from whose love we can never be separated. Today is the feast of the epiphany, the visit of wise people from the east, who brought precious gifts to the baby Jesus. The point of this is that Jesus was not just for one people, but for all people, and his message of hope is for all people. Today is also our covenant service, when at the start of a new calendar year, we have an opportunity to re-state and refresh our commitment to God, to receiving his message of hope in our lives, and to living that in the world. We will pray together a very special prayer, which is very hard to say, not because we don’t mean it, but because we do mean it, but we know that we only mean it with God’s help, not our own efforts.
So, as we enter 2019, God is challenging us to continue to look for the good news in our world, especially when little publicised; to continue to look for the signs of God at work in our world; to continue to remember and celebrate that the good news of God coming among us is not just for some, but for all. As Paul said in Romans our hope is in Christ, and nothing, nothing, can separate from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. As we make our covenant prayer in a few minutes, let us do so with hearts filled with hope, and with a desire to make our best efforts to live that hope in our own lives, in our church, and in our world. If we don’t have hope, we have nothing.