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The year 2020 is ending in a few days. Few will mourn its passing.

It will be remembered as one of the most difficult years, if not the most difficult year, of our lives.

Global pandemic. Racial injustice. Political turmoil. Economic uncertainty. The list is long.

Thus, it was something of a relief, something of a small victory, for me to prepare the January 2021 preaching and worship schedule for the church newsletter. It was a sign that this hard year is drawing to a close. It was a signal that a new year is on its way.

None of us can know what 2021 will hold but, if you are like me, you find yourself saying, “The odds are that it will be better than 2020.”

As the year ends, my wife, Karen, and I join our son, Aaron, and daughter-in-law, Teresa, in looking forward to the birth (due in early January) of a baby girl, their first daughter and our first granddaughter.

The birth of every child needs to be greeted as a sign of God’s will that the world will go on, as a sign of God’s promise to save and to bless. In this season, we certainly receive this child with that understanding.

Perhaps the best that can be said of 2020 is that it provided ample opportunity to learn and to grow both as individuals and communities into better versions of ourselves.

We have seen plenty of missteps big and small by public officials – and made a few ourselves if we’re honest. Yet, to get through the past nine months, we’ve had to find ways to adapt, to come together, to put the collective, common good before our own wishes, desires and freedoms.

Zoom church. Distance learning. Virtual gathering. On-line medical appointments. Civic engagement from afar. Social distancing. Wearing a mask. Washing our hands. Facing difficulty. Overcoming obstacles. Loving our enemies. Loving ourselves.

There has been much to lament, but also, if we look closely, much to celebrate in the heroic acts of so many who have helped us survive this pandemic.

The counsel of Scripture is that we do well to receive life’s obstacles as opportunities to grow in faith, hope and love.

I like to think the faith communities around the world have done that. I like to think the faith traditions represented in our neighborhoods are doing that.

I like to think that in years to come 2020 will be remembered not only for its difficulties but also for the ways we grew.

As Luke draws his account of the birth of Jesus to a close, he writes, “The child grew up and became strong. He was filled with wisdom, and God’s favor was on him.” (Luke 2:40).

As the last month of the year draws to a close, let’s take the opportunity to reflect on the ways we have grown stronger, the ways in which our wisdom has increased and the ways God’s favor, even in the face of unprecedented challenge, has been upon us.

Then, having offered a prayer of gratitude, let’s take what we have learned and prepare to put it to use in 2021.

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