Imagine you’re waking up on New Year’s Day, 1901. What a sense of hope and progress you would have had! The world is heading in the right direction as the 20th Century dawns. All the trappings of the old world are falling to the wayside, and the modern age is in full swing. There is hardly an area of life in which the word “advance” is not applicable. Medicine has advanced to increase life expectancy, reduce infant mortality, and begin to tackle some of the most deadly diseases. Technological advances light up nations, send messages between them, and allow regular people to travel across them. Politically, the most influential nations are increasingly governed not by hereditary autocrats but elected officials, and electoral reforms are providing opportunities for more people around the world to cast a ballot. The effect of not one but two great industrial revolutions has created economic opportunity as never before, with a burgeoning middle class and new seats at the tables once occupied solely by the landed gentry. In short, the outlook in the Western World was one of peace, prosperity, and progress. The world is getting smaller by the day, with people coming closer together literally (as more people move off the farm and into towns and cities) and figuratively (as transport and telecommunications develop). Life is good, and it’s only going to get better. [I am in debt to Margaret MacMillan’s The War That Ended the Peace for much of this background.]
Or so one could have thought. By 1914, the major powers of the world would be at war, in the deadliest conflict yet seen. This was followed by an influenza epidemic, a global economic catastrophe, and an even deadlier world war. One can look at the Holocaust, the Armenian genocide, ethnic cleansing, war crimes, terrorism, and campaigns of state- and majority-sponsored oppression around the globe to see that the trends from the beginning of the century did not continue as one might have expected. Instead of an age of reason and understanding, many aspects of what was to come look like the worst aspects of humankind on display again and again.
When we look at it this way, there’s no hope!
Don’t feel bad. It’s been this way since the beginning. Isaiah wrote about it in the 8th Century before Christ. The hope of the world is not in our advancement as a species, because that’s always going to be one step forward, one step back. But look at Isaiah 9:6-7:
For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; and the government will rest on His shoulders; and His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness from then on and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will accomplish this.
The Child born here is Jesus, and He did not come to continue the same cycles. Might is not defeated with more might, but with a Child being born. War is not solved with more war, but by the Prince of Peace. And, whether you are a follower of Jesus or not, the idea of a kingdom established and upheld with justice and righteousness forevermore sounds like one in which we’d all like to live. At the very least, we can all see that the solutions of this world simply do not work.
As we approach our New Year, we all have hopes and expectations for what 2019 will be. But where is your hope ultimately in this life? If it is not in Jesus, will this be the year you follow up on His call? If it is in Jesus, who will you share that hope with this coming year?
Happy New Year!