Thursday, November 20, 2014

Turkey Talk and the Ball Drops

It occurs to me that the two holidays that make a sandwich of Christmas tend to point us in opposite directions. Thanksgiving reminds us of the past while New Year's Day focuses us forward into the future. While Turkey Day causes us to take stock, to count our blessings, to reflect on all the days behind us, New Years takes the measure of our time and calls us on into the unknown, uncharted journey before us. And maybe it is fortunate for us that these holidays surround our celebration of Christmas, because until we can make peace with our past and find hope for the future, we don't have much to celebrate.

For most of us the past is a mixed bag, a blend of both blessing and regret, pleasure and pain. At Thanksgiving we give thanks for the good things we have been given, but we might do well to make a second list alongside of our blessings. What about the old hurts, the deep regrets, the episodes of our lives that we would give anything to be able to do over again, knowing what we know today? Bad choices, dumb moves, thoughtless words. We beat ourselves up for such things and yet we are too often blind to the way our past is poisoning our present.

Maybe the best part of Thanksgiving is not the tallying of our total accumulated blessings. Maybe the real joy comes in finding grace and release from the broken pieces of our past, to be set free from those haunting hurts of yesterday. And to see how some Sovereign Someone has brought you through it all, the good and bad, the joy and the tears, to this new day - today - is to be blessed indeed. 

And then there's New Years. The crystal ball drops illuminating the big "2015," someone to kiss and a whole new year to worry about. Like Thanksgiving, New Years is a mixed bag, with equal parts of anticipation and trepidation, hope and fear. Just putting up a new calendar is an act of faith. We make our plans and pencil in our dreams, but who knows how things will actually play out for us? It's a scary world out there, with plenty to frighten us, to make us feel powerless and defenseless. We resolve to make changes, trying to face up to the same struggles we were having last year and the years before that. But genuine new beginnings don't come easily, especially when we realize we are not the One holding all the cards. God knows what lies ahead.

So, our New Years can sink from optimism to pessimism faster than the ball drops, like an express elevator to the basement. Too many of us wring our hands over the days ahead, living with a low grade, ever present anxiety based on fear, not faith.

Maybe the best part of New Year's Day is not football or our feeble efforts to reform ourselves. Maybe the real joy is found in our confident hope that though the unknown future is in God's hands, so are we. Try as we may, you and I cannot control what lies ahead, and that's actually good news, since we are not up to the job anyway. It is enough for little people like us to be faithful and to follow, to take His hand and walk into the great unknown without fear.

As our Celtic forebearers prayed:

God before me, God behind me, 
God above me, God below me;
I on the path of God,
God upon my track.

Sweet release from yesterday. Confident hope for tomorrow. Faithful companionship today. Now, we can join the party.   

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