2020 was devastating for many. And I’m sorry to be the one to break this to you, but 2021 will not automatically change things.
That’s not exactly the encouraging message we all want to hear as we leave behind such a difficult year, but it’s a difficult truth that will enable Christians to point people to an eternal perspective.
New Year Disappointments
Think how excited and hopeful people are about a new year in general. This will be the year they will lose weight, pay off debt, repair relationships, and accomplish all the other goals on their lifetime to-do lists.
That happens in a normal year. Now, think about how people are treating the arrival of 2021. We are leaving behind the year of the pandemic, riots, economic chaos, and division. This is going to be the year of the health, love, prosperity, and peace.
But think about those previous normal years. By February or March, the gyms are empty, credit cards are maxed, conflicts return, and items remain stubbornly uncrossed off lists. These unfulfilled New Year’s resolutions have become an accepted running joke in our culture, but I worry many will not laugh off those failures this year.
People are understandably stressed and tired from a tumultuous year, but all the things that made this year so difficult did not magically disappear as the ball dropped in Times Square. As that reality sets in, disappointment and depression may become rampant. What’s going to happen to the person who managed to stumble through December by telling themselves, “I’ve just got to make it to 2021—things will be different next year”? How will they handle that first big negative circumstance?
In 2021, people will lose jobs, loved ones will die, powerful people will exploit the weak, leaders will disappoint—just like last year and just like every year before. The difference is people have placed unreachable hope that 2021 will somehow be different.
As people come to grips with the fact that changing to a new calendar doesn’t actually change anything, some may lose their grasp on hope. This could be a dangerous time, but it could also be an opportunity for the church.
The hope for everything to be perfect and all our problems to be solved is not a wrong hope, but it is a misplaced hope if we believe it can be realized with a calendar change. As Christians, our hope is not in a new year but an empty tomb.
As our friends and neighbors face disappointments in 2021, we should be prepared to point them to a day when disappointments will die. Their longings for perfection will not be satisfied in the new year, but they will be met in the new heavens and the new earth.
Our desire for everything to go right and escape the despair and devastation that characterized 2020 for many of us is a good desire, but it is an eschatological desire. No matter how many times one year changes to another, we will find disappointment waiting on us—until that day. We anxiously await the return of Christ.
Then we will have the answer to the question Sam asks the recently resurrected Gandalf in J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic The Lord of the Rings: “Is everything sad going to come untrue?” Yes, that time is coming, but not because a new year arrives. Rather, all our tears will be wiped away because the King of kings and Lord of lords arrives.
As we encounter people struggling with an inevitable disappointment in 2021, take the opportunity to point their vision beyond this year and into eternity. Help them see the goodness in their longing for perfection, but the mistake in believing it will happen with a calendar change.
Those looking to 2021 as a savior will eventually come face-to-face with a disappointing reality, but in that moment, Christians must be ready to proclaim the only Savior who will never disappoint. 2021 can be a hope-filled year but only if we place our hope beyond these 12 months.