This year’s Christmas Eve was great. Even though it was outside and in the dark and in the cold, it was a wonderful and meaningful time. It offered joy, worship, community and candles – all the things that make Christmas Eve Christmas Eve. Plus, it will be a Christmas Eve service we will all remember forever. Not only because it was outside in the cold, but primarily because it wasn’t Christmas Eve. Who celebrates Christmas Eve on the Eve of Christmas Eve? Answer: We did! All that to say, it was a spectacular night. And while several people said it was too cold, don’t believe them. Cold is when you breathe and your mustache instantly freezes or when you can’t feel your finger tips or when you bend your toes and they fall off, none of which happened Christmas Eve Eve. So, it wasn’t nearly too cold to gather for Christmas Eve! In any case, even though it was not really cold, people came dressed expecting the worst. They came wearing big jackets and scarves, thick lined gloves and mittens, hats and toques, and anything else they believed would keep them warm. Now, I have no problems with people dressing for winter success. What I do have a problem with (apparently) is being able to identify who people are when they are dressed that way in the dark of night.
Let me explain. At one point in the evening, Gary approached me. He was seven feet away, and I could not have told you who he was or what he was doing. For all I knew, he could have been John the Baptist. After the service, I warmly greeted someone and asked them a question one would ask at the beginning of the conversation. Turns out it was Mary. Mary had come early that evening, and we had spoken at least a half dozen times by them; but even though I was looking right at her, I had no idea it was her. Again, after the service I heard someone’s voice and turned to see them. I asked them if they had just arrived. Turns out they had been there for the whole service. At one point in the evening, I even looked right at them, but I had no idea it was them. Now, I presumed that this was all my fault and that my night vision may not be all that it was decades ago, but several people commented on the same problem. None of us could apparently see. Was it simply the darkness? Do dropping temperatures cause night blurries? Was this divine judgment for celebrating Christmas Eve on Christmas Eve Eve? All I know is that I could not see who anyone was. In a word, it was frustrating. Nevertheless, I felt very biblical. I felt like the man in Bethsaida who said (after Jesus partially healed him), “I see people; they look like trees walking around.” But as trees go, you all looked great!
Let’s face it, things aren’t looking so good right now. There’s this pandemic. There is loneliness and anxiety and boredom and death and heartache. And on top of that, there seems to be misery and injustice for all. Almost makes you question what God is doing or, at least, ask where God is in the midst of all of this. But there are two things we must keep in mind in all this darkness.
First, to paraphrase a GK Chesterton quote, when we are in the valley things look huge; but if we can get on the peak and see things from God’s perspective, things will rightfully look small and, in light of eternity, inconsequential (here’s his original quote which I think had a more positive spin to it: “One sees great things from the valley, only small things from the peak.”). To say it differently (and I desperately need to hear this), we need to view our circumstances, not in light of now, but in light of eternity. Why? Because eternity not only holds the key to truth, but also to peace.
But there is a second thing we need to keep in mind as we look around at this bent and broken world. We need to remember that none of us can see properly. I came across a GK Chesterton quote the other day that really struck me. It was from Chesterton’s “The Man Who Was Thursday.” He wrote:
“‘Listen to me,’ cried Syme with extraordinary emphasis. ‘Shall I tell you
the secret of the whole world? It is that we have only known the back of the world.
We see everything from behind, and it looks brutal. That is not a tree, but the back of a tree.
That is not a cloud, but the back of a cloud. Cannot you see that everything is stooping
and hiding a face? If we could only get round in front. . . .’”
Here’s the truth: none of us can see clearly. We all have a bad case of the night blurries. Chesterton argues it is because we can only see the back of things. Paul will argue (if we went with how the King James says it) that it is because we can only see “through a glass, darkly” (I have no idea what that means, but it sounds very ominous). I would like to add that it is because some things are just beyond our comprehension as finite creatures living in a fallen world. But whatever the reason or however you say it, it all comes down to one key truth. We can’t base our faith and our hopes on what we see. We have to base them on what we don’t see. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry often spoke great truth in short sentences, but maybe this line is more important today than ever before. He said: “And so here is my secret, a very simple secret; it is only with the heart that one can see rightly, what is essential is invisible to the eye.”
This new year, we need to pray for new eyes to see God at work even when we don’t see God at work. This new year, we need to pray for new hearts to follow God even when we can’t see where he is leading. This new year, we need to pray for new faith that trusts in God even when God seems to have vanished from sight. This new year, we need to pray for new hope that believes in the promises of God even when God seems to be far away. And here is the good news, it is often when God seems to have utterly abandoned us that God is doing his greatest work. We need only to look at the cross to see that what I am saying is true.
Chesterton blesses us with one last quote and a new year’s wish. He writes:
“The object of a New Year is not that we should have a new year. It is that we should have a new soul and a new nose; new feet, a new backbone, new ears, and new eyes. Unless a particular person made New Year’s resolutions, they would make no resolutions. Unless a person starts afresh about things, they will certainly do nothing effective.”
Here’s to 2021; and here’s to 2021 with new eyes, new hearts, new souls and new hopes.
Happy New Year’s!