Ending one year and beginning another always brings with it a reflectiveness, a sobering, a curious steadying. Another year gone! 1985 over! It passed so quickly! We hardly had time to get used to it. Perhaps the dominant image we are left with looking back at 1985 is that of terrorism. In 1985, terrorism struck more violently, more randomly and more universally than ever before. We weren’t talking just about Northern Ireland, Lebanon, Israel and Iran anymore. Greece, Italy, Malta, Belgium, Vienna, London, Toronto, Vancouver, no place was safe.
It was also the year of airline disasters, the worst year for air travel in aviation history. The Middle East still boiled, as did Central and South America and Northern Ireland. South Africa exploded into violence. All in all, there was more war than peace.
Most of these events, for most of us, were events without faces. But there were faces, real human faces within these and other events in 1985. Millions lived 1985 in fear, in bitterness, in the midst of war, in desperate poverty, in persecution and in despair. Thousands took their own lives. Yet there was another face to 1985. Despite its terrors and deaths, its bitterness and despairs, much progress was also made. Arms talks resumed, the relationship between the superpowers appeared to improve, and there was a scaling-down of bitterness and violence on some fronts. Moreover, the world’s treasury of understanding and beauty was added to. Much was achieved in the realms of understanding and creativity. In understanding, in art, in music, in literature, in cinema, we were blessed with much newness. We are all richer than we were a year ago. Thus, globally seen, 1985 was an ambivalent year, good and bad. A time of happiness and despair, of growth and stagnation, of birth and death. It was that kind of a year. I suspect that most of our personal lives mirrored this pattern: stagnation-growth, bitterness-love, war-peace, illness-death, death-birth.
Perhaps 1985 was a year when someone close to you died; or maybe a new child was born in your family. Perhaps it was a year in which you made a fresh beginning, graduated from school, entered a new phase of life, got married, found new employment; or maybe it was a year when you retired, lost a job, divorced or ended a phase of your life. Perhaps it was a year when your health broke down, or a year in which some new medicine or operation gave you new health. Perhaps it was a year of trouble within your marriage, your family, your community; or maybe it was a year in which you began to appreciate your marriage, family, or community for the first time. Perhaps you lost a love in 1985, or maybe it was a year in which new love and friendship was found. Perhaps 1985 was a very frustrating year for you, or maybe it was a fulfilling one.
Probably, for most of us, it was all of these things; stagnation and growth, endings and beginnings, illness and health, bitterness and love, disillusionment and enthusiasm, frustration and creativity, loneliness and community, death and love. A year of paradox, of ups and downs, of ambivalence! Life’s like that, like 1985…ups and downs, Bethlehems and Calvaries, joy and pain at the same time; joy and pain so intertwined that you don’t know how to feel or which part of you to believe. Hopefully, as Christians, somehow it all makes sense. We should know how to feel. Christ, meaning, love, lie in that ambivalence. Christ has sanctified both Bethlehem and Calvary, both life and death. Life, with all its contradictions, riddles, unsolved ambiguities, frustrations and deaths is good, very good in fact. Ultimately it makes sense. Despite all, our lives are the place where love and beauty are found. The world is good after all. Deep within our planet earth, deep within its struggling life, deep within our own troubled hearts, there shivers divinity, naked infant divinity, shivering like the infant Jesus in that cold barn in Bethlehem. Yes, 1985 was a good year, despite all. Yes, life is good and our world is good, despite bitterness and shortcomings. Yes, Christ lives within us, despite so many indications to the contrary.
Finally, yes, we can choose hope even as terror fills the air and bitterness, hatred, illness and death are a constant threat. Within our hearts and our world, as in Bethlehem’s cold stall, lies a shivering Christ. We need not be naive about 1986. It will bring new terrors, new deaths. But it will bring new blessings and will, despite all, be a good year. One way or the other, when 1987 dawns we will all be somehow richer, irrespective of pain, for having lived in 1986.