Skip to content

Month: December 2022

The not-so-secret secret to a happy new year

And just like that, Christmas is over.

Living rooms now contain cold corners where Christmas trees once stood. Decorations have disappeared in homes and stores. Christmas music—the mere thrill of playing it in November—now feels a little stale. The pace has geared down to a trudge. Christmas goodies found on every aisle in every store are now crammed into a single space with giant 50%-off signs. The snow and chill of December often described as white and brilliant are now considered gray and bone-chilling.

The week after Christmas serves as a reality check that real life continues to roll on.

We attempt to extend the hope of the holidays one final time on December 31—New Year’s Eve. People will gather all over the world to count down the final ten seconds of 2022 before shouting, amidst a flurry of confetti: “Happy New Year!”

Then, the social construct goes, millions will drink their body weight in liquor and start kissing strangers.

And then, just like that, the celebration of New Year’s Eve is over (though millions will celebrate the start of 2023 with a killer hangover).

So why do millions scream out “Happy New Year” precisely at midnight?

Perhaps it’s just the thing people say.

Still, how many of us are actually conscious of the collective wish the moment we wake up the next morning?

Most don’t, and even won’t, think about it until the next December 31.

So why is celebrating the new year so important?

To some, welcoming in a new year is simply a sigh of relief; 2022 was a difficult year for them. While there may have been good times and blessings, overwhelming stress and loss seemed to predominate. They’re just thankful they made it through the sorrows and uncertainties. They see the new year as a blank slate, a fresh start.

Others see the new year as a challenge, a time to reassess their goals, improve their circumstances, or plan new adventures. The new year is a springboard to exciting new things. They proclaim that 2023 is their year.

Unfortunately, both of these approaches are doomed to failure. For the first group, stress and grief are not going to grind to a halt with the turning of the calendar year. Come January 2, the struggles will still be there. They will likely continue in one manner or another.

For the second group, they will find they are in control of nothing. Don’t get me wrong; goals are great and helpful. However, when we couch them as “resolutions” made traditionally on a single day, they’re forgotten by the end of the month, masked by the typical doldrums of life. Further, life is incredibly skilled at throwing curve balls when you least expect it. Whatever was the center of focus on New Year’s Eve goes out the window with the first setback. Members of this second group might even find themselves in the first group by the end of the year.

Ironically, those from the first group might even find themselves next December with an unexpected promotion or adventure.

The truth is, we just don’t know what 2023 holds for each of us.

So, does this make the “Happy New Year” an empty wish?

Not at all.

To have a happy 2023 has nothing to do with a clean slate or goals no matter how clearly defined. A happy new year is not about surviving loss or stress. Nor is it about accomplished resolutions.

Either one of those perspectives can be achieved yet neither automatically warrants a happy new year.

To live with happiness in the new year is to live with the prayer Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane the night before his death, “Not my will but your will be done” (Luke 22:42).

For me, this is one of the hardest prayers in the Bible.

For the group that celebrates the new year as a new start, it could mean the suffering will continue. Life will always carry suffering and grief. Who wants that?

What it does mean, however, is suffering knowing that Jesus will be in it with them.

For the second group, the idea of giving up control and letting God’s will be done is a little unsettling.

Whatever the case, a happy new year means living in the peace and strength of Jesus come what may.

2023 is staring us in the face. No one on earth knows exactly how it will end.

For true happiness in the new year, we must cling to the robe of the one who transcends time.

Jesus is the only certainty we have. And resting in the peace of Christ is ultimately that which will bring the happiness we all seek.

Leave a Comment

Regaining your bearings when your kingdom crumbles

I tend to get into Christmas.

I mean really get into Christmas.

I am Clark Griswold. If I could cover my house in thousands of lights, I would risk my well-being to string them up. If I could find a tree too big for my living room, I would cut it down and figure out a way. I am proud of that identity. I own it. I have no inhibitions.

However, this Christmas feels a little more subdued. I still “don me now my gay apparel” (Oh, how I wish the original meaning of that word hadn’t been hijacked): Christmas tee-shirts, and neckties, and an over-the-top Santa hat. I watch Christmas movies like A Christmas Story, Christmas Vacation, and Die Hard (and, yes, it is a Christmas movie). I play carols incessantly without hesitation or shame (and those who constantly complain about Christmas music, I don’t care).

This year feels a bit different, more laid back. I still feel excited for the holiday. However, I felt I entered into this Christmas season more emotionally exhausted than anything else. I felt mentally spent, spiritually stressed out and tired.

The last few months were tough. Nearly everything in and around my house seemed to be falling apart. Our finances became frightfully stretched.

Years ago, the events of these previous months might have sent me into a meltdown.

My kingdom felt like it was crumbling.

However, thankfully, perhaps from experiencing the grace of God in my previous crises, as stressful as these months were, this time I never felt God had abandoned me.

I did not see my litany of mishaps as an absence of God or even as a divine punishment.

I can’t say I looked up at heaven from my pit bathed in a heavenly glow. The struggle with my flesh was present. However, I was able remember and believe that this was not my kingdom to begin with.

Further, at several points—even as late as last week–God wonderfully reminded my wife and I that he still sees us.

And that gave us peace.

This is how I entered into this Christmas season: with an odd mixture of exhaustion and peace.

The angels’ message to the shepherds also seemed meant for me: “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger” (Luke 2:10-12).

Do not be afraid. I bring you good news. The king has come.

When angels appear, they always start all their proclamations with “Do not be afraid.” It is these mighty beings who come to Mary and the lowly shepherds to announce the coming of the Prince of Peace. I find the angel’s assurance to not be afraid more than a little ironic. Angels are not adorable, chubby little infants, with rosy, red cheeks and dressed in diapers and wings. Try to imagine the angel guarding the east gate of the Garden of Eden with a flaming sword flashing back and forth as an adorable little two-year-old. It doesn’t jive. No, angels are powerful, intimidating and warrior-like entities whose presence evokes fear in those they encounter.

Yet their message is anything but threatening.

The angels are there to proclaim the arrival of the King of kings.

I have nothing to fear because in the middle of my own fragile, crumbling kingdom, Emmanuel has come to set up one that will never end. That is good news. It is reassuring to us in the midst of struggle.

This good news gave me the freedom not to wildly celebrate his arrival, but to rest in it. It’s like the angels said, specifically to me. “Do not be afraid. I bring good news. God sees you and has stepped into your crumbling kingdom and in doing so, brings peace. Now rest.”


Regain my bearings.


Rest in the knowledge God’s got this. Rest in the fact that no matter how big our problems, he has no equal. Rest in the assurance that, whether some miraculous miracle drops fire from heaven for Elijah or I wind up on the ash heap like Job, God is here, with us.



Sometimes we celebrate the arrival of Christmas with wild passion and joy. I have seasons like that.

But sometimes we just need to celebrate its arrival with the peace to rest.

Let Emmanuel—God With Us—wrap you in his arms and whisper in your ear: Do not be afraid. I am here.

1 Comment

The promise of peace

In 2014, I wrote about Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem “Christmas Bells” in the context of an active shooter situation at a mall near my home in Portland, Oregon. The day after the shooting, I drove down to the mall, watching the police activity, the media frenzy, and the stunned onlookers standing in small groups still trying to grasp what had just happened.

As I drove around the mall, the carol “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” came over the radio.

That song has stuck with me ever since.

The thought of church bells piercing the grit, darkness, and violence of the times and proclaiming the arrival of a promised Messiah is burned into my mind.

Especially at the conclusion of each of the every subsequent year since.

Since 2014, there have been multiple mass shootings or murders via other means which now only hardens our hearts because we are so quick to take advantage of it politically. We have also  experienced two presidential elections, which have done little more than erode our trust and respect of the office. We have experienced a pandemic which locked us into mind-numbing solitude, turned each other into enemies, and decimated our trust in public health and education.

This last year, America entered into recession. Inflation is at a decades-high level, and at one point, gas prices hit an all-time high. The powers-that-be responded not by acknowledging or  owning the recession, but by changing the definition of the word.

Life has been hard since the 2020 pandemic. And every year, when December arrives, I find myself wanting  to allow the darkness of the prior year to engulf me.

The last several months have been fairly difficult and overwhelming for me personally. There was no life-changing catastrophe. Instead, it has felt more like death by a thousand paper cuts.

The inflation-that-supposedly-isn’t has depleted our savings account and left us carrying a credit card balance for the first time in our 25-year marriage. Our house had a power surge during a summer thunderstorm, resulting in a fried underground cable and requiring an overhead replacement.  Our refrigerator, washing machine, and laptop computer all went out. Both of us needed long-delayed replacements for our eyeglasses, and we were informed our dangerously bald tires, which we’d hoped to use through the winter, could easily blow out before Thanksgiving.

Then, we were told that one of our trees, the one closest to the house and garage, had developed serious cracks in the trunk and has officially become what the expert called a “liability.” Finally, our two senior dachshunds both developed incontinence (one from old age, the other due to Cushing’s disease). We spend much of our waking time chasing them around the house, cleaning up dribbles and mopping the floor.

All this unfolded in just six weeks.

As December arrived, it became very tempting to just ignore Advent altogether. My life felt like total chaos, and I was too exhausted to think about the meaning of the season. Hiding out in my room and binging TV shows became my refuge. I just wanted to focus on my own woes.

But Emmanuel won’t let that happen.

When light steps into the darkness, the darkness goes away. Darkness cannot win in a battle with light.

Likewise, light does not remove the person from the darkness, but removes the darkness from the person.

Therein lies the peace promised by Emmanuel, the God With Us.

We are not rescued from the darkness. We still have to work our way out of the mess. But Advent reminds us that God himself stepped into the chaos loosed by the serpent.

In Genesis 3, the serpent sets out to undo the order and beauty of creation, described just two chapters earlier. At first, his plan appears to work when Adam and Eve eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

However, when God confronts the three players in the Garden, he slips in one promise of hope. To the serpent, he says that the woman’s offspring “will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”

The Christmas story still speaks the angels’ message of “peace on earth.”

We have the peace of knowing that God’s got this, that he sees the mess we’ve made of his creation and has made it right.

He sees that my death-by-a-thousand paper-cuts will ultimately glorify him.

My duty is to release my stresses to him—daily, continually. It’s not easy, but it is necessary.

During this second week of Advent, acknowledge the darkness around you. Think of the chaos in your life. Reflect on the arrival of the Prince of Peace—the infant who entered our world, our stories, calming the storms in our hearts and souls by commanding, “Peace, be still.”

You will make it simply because he is with you.

And that is the promise of peace in the Advent season.




Leave a Comment