The cover of Time magazine this week proclaims 2020 as “The Worst Year Ever.” Superlatives are often subjective, and, no doubt, some hyperbole was intended, but the fact of the matter is we are nearing the end of what has been one of the strangest, most difficult, and indeed, worst years of our lives.
As if the sickness, death, political bickering, and hybrid school schedules weren’t enough, perhaps the crescendo of the year came this week with the cancelation of the Ohio State/Michigan game for the first time in over 100 years. If this year hasn’t already laid claim to being the worst year, it does seem to be making a last-minute push towards the title.
In difficult times, Christians have always found solace in the Scriptures and the message of the loving kindness and faithful love of our Creator. He will never leave us nor forsake us, he says, and the church has long celebrated Advent as a hopeful harbinger of good news and tidings of great joy. Our hope for better days and our trust in a God who has the whole world in his hands surely has been subjected to doubt, uncertainty, and weariness during “the worst year ever.” We find a kindred voice in the author of Psalm 13 who asks, “How long, O Lord?”
Christians have an opportunity this year to feel the anticipatory weight of Advent more fully than ever. Approved vaccines offer glimpses of the end of the pandemic, but the reality of a difficult and isolated winter looms over us all. During this interim time, Christians confront the same dilemma that always lies at the center of our faith: how do we wait? Christianity is the faith of waiting.
In the Bible, 1 Kings 19 tells the story of one of God’s prophets growing weary, tired and overwhelmed. At this point in his life, he had been through a lot (in the previous chapter he had a showdown with the local gods which he won handily, but immediately became a marked man and went on the run). He found himself in a cave, alone, and ready to give up. There are probably many of us who feel like Elijah alone in his cave, unsure of his next move and frustrated to the point of paralysis – he just did not know what to do or where to go next. It was in this chaotic, disorienting, and depressing time that God chose to reveal himself to Elijah.
God told Elijah to go to the side of the mountain so that he could pass by. There was a great wind that blasted the rocks, but the Lord was not in the wind. Then, there was an earthquake that shook the ground and further disoriented Elijah, but God was not in the earthquake. Following the earthquake was a dramatic fire, but God was not in the fire either. In the next moment, dramatic due to the stark contrast of the preceding cacophonous events, Elijah hears a gentle whisper.
I have thought often of this story throughout this “worst year ever.” We may have exchanged a microscopic virus for violent winds, a contentious election for an earthquake, and economic turmoil for a fire (I don’t think God was in any of them), but I wonder if this is our moment to be listening for the gentle whisper of our Creator’s voice.
The American psyche so admired around the world with our rugged individualism, rigorous work ethic, and frenetic pace of life is not without its shortcomings. What may have unsettled us the most during 2020 is the way these staples of American life have been shaken. As we have been forced to slow down, spend more time alone and in smaller groups, adjust and adapt our work schedules, and confront deep questions about our social practices, make sure that you don’t miss the soft whisper of God’s voice reminding you of his love, reassuring you of your faith, and reinforcing hope while you wait.