I’ve been thinking about a MASH episode lately. It takes place between two New Year’s Eve celebrations held in 1950 & 1951. Col. Sherman T. Potter, dressed as Father Time, says “Here's to the New Year. May she be a damn sight better than the old one, and may we all be home before she's over.” In real life, it would take two more toasts to see things end in 1953. Time and fate are fickle things.
With 2020 finally dragging us all to a conclusion, I think a lot of us could make Col. Potter’s toast our own. Most of us hope that the uncontrollable disasters and diseases wrought in 2020 abate and give us a break. We hope our luck gets better. We wish that the fates would deal us a better hand. We wish for 2021 to be a year of peace and goodwill, prosperity, and good times. We raise a glass to a new year that puts derechos and Covid-19 clearly in the rearview mirror.
Too bad we don’t believe in fate and wishful thinking.
Fate is what we believe in when we say, “It’s all god’s plan.” Fate is the belief that stuff happens and we must just accept it all. Fate is thinking the agenda for the next year is already set. Fate is believing that that cards we’re dealt are the only reality. Wishing is dreaming that the next year will, by luck, be better while fearing it will be worse. Wishing is imagining that next year the lottery ticket will be a winner, my team will win the championship, and I’ll finally lose weight. Fate and wishes are bad news.
In the 40th chapter of the Book of Ezekiel, the prophet has a new vision. Ezekiel sees, in elaborate and glorious detail, the Temple in Jerusalem. He sees the people of Israel engaged in faithful worship. It takes eight chapters to describe this holiest place on earth and all that takes place there. The catch is that at the time of the vision there is no temple in Jerusalem. It was destroyed fourteen years before (v.1). Most of the people, including Ezekiel, have been in exile in Babylon for twenty-five years. There is no worship life and no Israel. No doubt some form of Col. Potter’s New Year’s toast has taken place many, many, times over those years. “Here's to the New Year. May she be a damn sight better than the old one, and may we all be home - in Jerusalem - before she's over.”
Ezekiel’s vision does not express the desire of the people, however. This vision comes “at the beginning of the year” (v.1) and is God’s Word about a new thing that will take place in their midst. The promise of Ezekiel’s vision is more than any wishful thinking could have imagined. It is much more than hoping for a little better year with a little less disappointment, disaster, and disease. It is a vision of the new thing God is doing – amid the trials of living in captivity. God’s message through Ezekiel is that Israel will survive and be renewed.
It should be said that a new temple was indeed built in Jerusalem years later by Herod the Great. It was glorious. It did thrive with the bustle of religious activity. It was destroyed again. God had something more glorious than even Ezekiel understood.
In the Incarnation of God in Christ, a temple beyond imagination has been established – the very Body of Christ! (whose stones are living – you and me!) The temple named Jesus has risen to be a living sign of the new things God is doing not just at New Year’s – but every single day. That temple cannot be destroyed – they tried. Even when the world killed God, God did a new thing.
Here is the heart of the matter. God has been doing a new thing every day of 2020. When trials have arisen, people have loved, served, rebuilt, and worshipped. Amidst the destruction and death of war, portrayed on MASH, stories of healing, sacrifice and hope emerge. Today, God shows up in dirty scrubs in a cancer hospital, with N95 mask marks in Covid-19 units. God shows up in food pantries and soup kitchens. God pitches in with a chainsaw to remove fallen branches. That is what God does every year – whether it be 1950, 1951, or 2020.
With all due respect to the fictitious, good Colonel, maybe my toast this year will be something like this: “Here’s to the New Year and to the God who will make things new everyday no matter what comes.” Whatever 2021 holds, God is with us alive, working, renewing, redeeming. Amen.