Column – You Never Know What A New Year Will Bring

Published 5:44 pm Friday, January 6, 2023

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I’ll never forget the way we left for the beach one time just a few years ago. Long-since not newlyweds, nor anything else people would mistake for young, we were scheduled to leave the next morning.

We had finished our packing. Since we had a garage at that house, we were planning to even load the car. Then early the next morning, when we inevitably woke up all excited about the trip, all we’d have to do would be to go out and hop in the car.

We could hit the road nice and early. It was a Friday after work now. I suppose it was about 6:30. I said off-handedly, “You know when we were younger, we would have totally just hopped in the car and gotten out of town now.

I don’t know if that rubbed Elizabeth the wrong way. I don’t know if she thought I was challenging her. Next thing I knew, she said, “What do you mean when we were younger?!” The rest of it is a blur now, because by 7p.m. we were in the car and backing out of the garage.

We drove about three hours that night. Sure enough, we knocked out almost half of the distance to the beach and arrived there extra early the next day with more time to enjoy ourselves. That was a quirky decision we made on a lark. We still laugh about it.

One observer of the scripture story in Matthew 2:13-23 says the obvious, at least for most of us. She says “I’ve never had a dream that told me to flee in the middle of the night to save my family.” Oh, we might all have things that make us feel uneasy. Things that make us second-guess what we had understood, or revisit plans we’d made.

Maybe you’ve heard a bump in the night and thought someone was trying to break in. But flee town with our family for safety? Leave home behind forever on nearly no notice? Take with you almost nothing of your belongings? Probably not most of us.

So, we need to take a look at this curious story. About why it happened and why it might matter enough that it rolls around every few years to consider again.

Herod wasn’t happy. He wasn’t going to be happy. He sent to have the little ones killed. This story is in great part cruel and disproportionate. It is the cautionary tale about the fruits of ego, anger, grief and fear run amok. We can hurt others by not tending to what has wounded us. Herod was himself the always dangerous intersection of powerful and wounded.

So, the Holy family had yet another huge adjustment to make on short notice. There are some things you don’t want to get too good at. Mary, Joseph and a now young Jesus were getting rather good at pivoting on a dime. Turning from the hope of a normal life and the assumptions we make when we think we know what the next year is going to bring, instead having to roll with a completely new plan while getting very little time to think or grieve.

What can we do with a story like this? For starters, it is for any of us to admit something we’ve experienced likewise: you never know what a new year will bring.

A new year may hold in store challenges that we’ll have to get our hearts and minds around. A new year may hold in store unthinkable good. Blessings that we could not have foreseen or imagined. I pray that the latter will be the case for you.

Once we all admit that, then there are some even happier and more hopeful things we should take away from this story. The God we serve came near and lived among us. While he did, he knew life in all its instability and unpredictability. Has life thrown a punch at you? Has life surprised you in some way? Emmanuel, God come near, has lived right through the same kind of thing.

Also, notice that Mary and Joseph pressed on because they had no choice. You and I in some ways have very little choice in this new year but to press on, too. The God who is with us every step of the way — and who may be in, around, ahead and behind us in all of life’s complexity — is rarely glimpsed until the dust settles and we gain clarity.

Dr. Charles Qualls is senior pastor at Franklin Baptist Church. Contact him at 757-562-5135.