Well, what a year it's been. Not so much 'pear' as 'Covid shaped', and so it continues: lockdowns, social distancing and abandoned parties (except Whitehall 'gatherings' of course).
In addition to this, I've had to learn to sing through a mask and conduct a worship service in Ghana without leaving the house. The word 'different' seems such an insipid description of 2021.
Looking back, several things seem to stand out, one of which must be the way in which our belief that we are in control has not been dented so much as battered beyond recognition. The words of the apostle James seem particularly relevant at a time when I place a question mark alongside every appointment I put in my calendar.
'Look here, you who say, Today or tomorrow we are going to a certain town and will stay there a year. We will do business there and make a profit. How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog—it's here a little while, then it's gone.'
This has been a terrible time for so many. There have been more than 147,000 deaths in the UK and a staggering 5.3 million globally. Every death is a tragedy and we do well to remember that these figures do not include those with long Covid as well as all those affected by pressures on health services.
Like the rest of us, I feel I should take my hat off and applaud those (some of whom I know well) who have been giving their all to keep things going at the toughest of times. I was especially pleased to hear the Chair of the Health Board tell those gathered online for the Pembrokeshire Prayer Breakfast that she believes prayer had made a very important contribution to all they are seeking to do.
It's not been an easy time for churches of course and things have changed in many ways as a result of lockdowns, online services and cautious 're-openings'. A recent survey has shown for example that a large proportion of church members have reduced the regularity of their church attendance. Not surprisingly this has had implications for volunteering and giving.
And yet I can honestly say that in spite of this I have been inspired by the ways in which my fellow believers have sought to bring hope to those 'living in darkness' (Isaiah 11). Foodbanks, CAP Debt Advice and Street Pastors are but a few examples of how they have been seeking to love their neighbours.
Having said this though, I have not been inspired by the way some of our political leaders have behaved. I respect their office and I continue to encourage the churches I know to pray for them of course, and I can only commend the Welsh Government and in particular the First Minister for the way in which they have reacted to the crisis. But I have been saddened, if not surprised by the UK government's track record. We need to pray for a greater sense of integrity and transparency at the heart of government because a lack of trust and a lack of respect are the last things we need in a time of crisis.
Thankfully Christmas reminded me that in the final analysis its God, not any human being, who is in charge of history. There is no finer example of this than the Roman emperor's decision to order a census which resulted in a pregnant Mary and Joseph having to travel to Bethlehem. If he hadn't done this Jesus would have been born in Nazareth. But God had planned this long ago – which is why the prophet Micah was able to predict it some seven centuries previously.
A few weeks ago I had the privilege of preaching at a fellow pastor's funeral. I told everyone that right to the end he kept saying 'Amen' and 'Hallelujah'. He was at peace because he believed the essential truths of the Christian gospel and so I pray you will know something of that peace and joy as you move on into yet another challenging year.