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Saturday, January 01, 2011

New Year's Day

Well, here we are on New Year's Day. It's a cultural phenomenon, I think. It may be worthy of sociological observation too. Consider the behavior of people just before New Year's and immediately after.

Here in the U.S.A. we have a national tradition. Hundreds of thousands of people gather in and around Times Square in New York City - to watch a light crystal ball be slowly lowered at the precise moment that marks the start of the New Year. There's music and celebration going on for hours before this ball makes its move. And of course there's music and celebration going on for several hours afterward as well.

Throughout the country, we have smaller celebrations that seem to try to capture the moment. I'm told that the second largest event in the country on New Year's Eve actually takes place in my own city of Dallas, Texas. It's also an outdoor celebration, at Victory Plaza downtown. There are many outdoor celebrations though, all with the intent to helping people "ring in the New Year." Perhaps the strangest was in the Florida Keys --- where they lowered a drag queen in a giant high heeled shoe. But I digress.

The thing is, people have just come through the biggest religious holiday celebration of the year. Christmas is still lingering in the air. Most of us haven't even started to take down the Christmas decorations. So it's a little odd to me that we gear up for this totally non-religious holiday. And we party hardy.

My son and I were at the health club yesterday - December 31st. I don't believe I've ever seen so many people in the club. I found myself wondering if they were ...

.... trying to atone for their sin of not working out in 2010
.... trying to psyche themselves up for 2011 resolutions about to be made
.... getting ready to get drunk and though exercise would help their stamina

I know a lot of people get gussied up and go out to party on New Year's Eve. Many of them don't plan to get drunk. Women get their hair done, get fancy new dresses, and make a big deal of going out. And their men, not so much. But they go out too, perhaps for different reasons.

My wife and I stayed home. Since early in our marriage, when we had a couple of narrow misses with drunk drivers, we've made a habit of staying home or close to home on New Year's Eve. We try not to be out driving that night. Last night, we had a couple of friends come for supper. We played board games by the tree, in front of the fireplace and ate party food until it was time to tune into the broadcast of the ball lowering in Times Square (NYC).

Several of the local network channels were broadcasting Dallas' New Year's Eve celebration. Or they were doing a delayed broadcast of the New York event. We wanted to see the New York event on Dallas time --- so we could go to bed an hour earlier! So we found what we wanted on CNN. There the evening was co-hosted by Anderson Cooper and comedienne Kathy Griffin.

Now Anderson is a gentlemen of great refine. Being the son of fashion maverick Gloria Vanderbilt, he's come from fine stock and is a well-mannered, gentleman. Kathy Griffin, on the other hand, proved that she has no class whatsoever. It seemed that light-hearted banter between the two was the agenda for the evening. But Anderson continually having to tell Kathy to stop using foul language (my 13 year old son was watching with us), and Kathy continually punching Anderson in the gut, got to be a little too much.

My wife and I were discussing this morning what we thought Anderson should do about it. Certainly he shouldn't put up with Kathy's no-class, white trash act any more. If I were him, I'd refuse to work with her. Moreover, I'd probably work to get her black-balled from the Larry King Live show and its replacement. (She's been one of Larry King's most frequent guests.)

So did you notice that? We tuned in to watch a celebration. Twelve hours later we were still talking about how repulsive one of the hosts had been. She actually subtracted from the festive air of the event. Please, CNN. Do yourselves a favor and can that broad.

Anyway, this whole culture of New Year's Eve and New Year's Day strikes me today. I mean it strikes me that it is a whole lot of hoopla ... that's pretty much over nothing. What are we celebrating? Is that worth celebrating? Does the celebration match the size of the event?

If you partied hardy on New Year's Eve, or even if you didn't, my guess is that New Year's Day isn't such a high point for you. As days go, it's pretty anti-climactic really. You sleep in. You clean up the party mess from the night before. Most of us start taking down Christmas decorations. We may do something to get started on New Year's resolutions. But for the most part, the day is quite unremarkable for the typical American.

Why would we bust ourselves to party and celebrate a day which then proves year after year to be quite unremarkable? We always hear people justify it by talking about how each New Year's Day represents a new start. They may argue that we're celebrating the year that's coming to a close. Or they'll argue that the New Year is such a new beginning that it merits excitement.

But let's be honest here. Did you ever think to yourself, "Wow! That 1997 was such a year! We were so darned blessed that year!" Or did you ever find yourself thinking, "Gosh, 2011 is going to be such an awesome year! I just know God is going to bless me beyond measure this coming year!"

Well of course you haven't. And that's my point. We humans seem to treat the rolling of the calendar from one day to the next as if it were some sort of milestone in life. We behave as if it changes everything. We tell ourselves that it's worth getting excited for. But then it doesn't deliver. And we forgive it for that. I mean, it's not as if we really ever expected it to deliver! Still, we embrace it as if it will.

Is it possible that New Year's celebrations are evidence of the greatest case of denial known to mankind? Is this where we deny the reality of the past? Is it where we deny the real likelihood of the future? Is there any real evidence that could be the basis for any assumption that 2011 will be markedly better than 2010? If so, I'd like someone to show me.

Jeremiah 29:11 says, "For I know the plans I have for you' declares the Lord, 'plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." I don't know about you, but that's real, tangible evidence that should be the basis for expectation in the coming year. However, even Jeremiah 29:11 is a promise in the context of a covenant. These are God's plans for His people when we are obedient.

Did you catch that? All the ways that 2010 failed to live up to my expectations, and all the ways that 2011 will meet my expectations, are tied to my obedience. Said differently, unless I am obedient, I have no basis for expecting anything out of Jeremiah 29:11. In fact, my failure to obey God in all things could quite possibly mess up the blessings He intends for me.

I saw a sign on a church near my house yesterday. It was announcing a New Year's Eve service. And I thought about how appropriate that is. We should be in church on New Year's Eve. We should be examining our ways and testing them. (Lamentations 3:40) We should be using the turn of the calendar to check our obedience and get serious about what expectations we really have and should have of God.

Happy New Year. Now let's get busy and obedient!

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