By David Hegg
This morning finds our society at the start of two important nights. Just seven days separate them, but how we see them couldn’t be more different.
Today we celebrate Christmas Eve, with its candles, carols and reflections on that night outside Bethlehem when Jesus’ birth was announced. And in seven days, most will celebrate New Year’s Eve, with its joyful abandonment of all things serious, washed down with adult beverages and peppered with kisses and wishes that the coming year will bring us the kind of escape from reality that defines the night itself.
It seems irrational but few seem to understand the irony of these two celebrations. They both speak to the basic human desire to find something better, something less painful than the brokenness of a world addicted to selfishness, hatred and violence. Yet, they point us in two very different directions.
Christmas Eve reminds us we have not been left alone in this world. Our creator did not abandon his creation once sin found its way into our operating system. This virus of sin has replicated ad infinitum and we see its effects everywhere. Children are bringing guns to school, and mothers are finding ways to vacate their wombs of inconvenient lives. Power is being abused by those we trusted, and those who labor to protect us by enforcing the laws and apprehending criminals are being handcuffed and maliciously scrutinized by those who no longer consider public safety a priority. And I could pick up the morning paper over the past months and have many more examples.
While our world does hold out happiness, comfort and joy, we must admit that you really have to look for them, and hold them fast when you find them. But Christmas Eve reminds us that all is not lost. No amount of human evil can overcome the fact that God has come to Earth, and with him the power to overcome evil is available to us.
New Year’s Eve provides a completely different type of escape. For too many the night is a time to indulge passions, throw off restraint, loosen morals, and drink themselves into a different state, and even a different bed. Long gone are any thoughts of Christmas Eve with its serious reflection on the human condition and the great gift of the Savior. Gone too are thoughts of responsibility, either to God or the families, friends and society that will have to clean up the messes, inform the survivors, or spend years repairing broken promises. Yes, I am speaking broadly, and perhaps with too much hyperbole. But then again, I’ve lived through quite a few New Year’s Eves, and spent too much of January trying to get broken lives back into some semblance of health.
The real question is this: Which night tells the truth about us? Where do we look for refuge, for escape? What ethical standards are we clinging to for meaning and purpose in this life, and more importantly, in the next?
Here’s my advice. A week from now as you celebrate the end of 2023 and the start of 2024, drag some Christmas Eve into your New Year’s Eve thoughts and behavior. Don’t settle for abandonment and escape as the means of finding meaning, purpose, and hope in 2024. Laugh, sing, and enjoy the company of family and good friends, but don’t then turn to counterfeits that promise what they can’t deliver.
The good news is the God of Christmas already inhabits the future, and your very best option is to walk the coming weeks and months looking to him, rather than trying to escape reality through denial or cultural anesthesia. End the year feeling good about yourself and your behavior, and you’ll wake up on Jan. 1, 2024, feeling much better! May the New Year bring you peace, joy and love in fullest measure!
Local resident David Hegg is senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church. “Ethically Speaking” appears Sundays.