Dean Phelps, Transitional Regional Minister
I will date myself with this reference, no doubt. Walter Cronkite, as anchor for the CBS Evening News, would end each evening’s broadcast with the tag line, “And that’s the way it is,” with that day’s date. As we turn the calendar from 2020 to 2021, perhaps with a combination of anxiety and relief, we look at the year and say, “And that’s the way it is.”
However, Walter Cronkite also hosted another program, one that viewed historical events through the lens of contemporary media technology. The show was called You Are There. As with the evening news, Cronkite ended each episode with a tag line: “What sort of day was it? A day like all days, filled with those events that alter and illuminate our times… all things are as they were then, and you were there.”
What sort of year was it? It was a year filled with events that have altered and illuminated the days and years to come. That was the year that was, and we were there.
Reflecting on the year that was, I turned to words in Isaiah: “Do not remember the former things or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing” (Is. 43:18-19a, NRSV). I have sometimes heard this quoted with the implication of throwing the baby out with the bathwater, as if to say, let’s just forget everything that has gone before. None of the former things matter.
Although we may want to forget most of 2020, I don’t think collective amnesia was the word of the Lord to Isaiah’s contemporaries, and I don’t believe that is the word to us today. We should carry the memory of where we have been, of what has shaped us. Yet, we should not be so closely drawn to the former things that we shutter our hearts and minds to the new thing that God is about to do.
Each passing year leaves its mark, but the events of 2020 marked us and changed us in ways that we don’t yet know. It may be years before we can fully comprehend how the year just passed has changed us: how it affected us individually, our faith, our families, our communities. Nevertheless, 2020 opened us to new things that God is doing. We have discovered capacities that we did not know we had. We have found places in ourselves that need more light. We are a changed people, but we are still God’s people.
All things are as they were then, and we are there.