Ending 2017 Well

Please don’t ask for a blessed year 2018 until you’re done ending 2017 well. In this last week of the year I want to remind you that moving on to the next year will only be good after you did an honest review of this past year. Lot’s wife is a prime example of someone who is still haunted by the past. After the episode of Sodom and Gomorrah being destroyed she still cannot let go and turns back. The consequence is that she is stuck. She turns into a pillar of salt and can’t move anymore at all.

It maybe true that when one door closes, God opens another. But you may not be ready to embrace that change. You first need to finish mourning the loss of the first opportunity. Any change, any transition, needs a proper ending. And judging them as “good” or “bad”, as “negative” or “positive” is not the point. Change is change and transitions are transitions. When someone dies the process of preparing for and going through the funeral helps end things well. When a couple gets married the process of preparing for and going through the wedding helps end things well. Yes, a wedding is not just a new start but also an ending: your single life ends. It’s really a shame that on the occasion of a divorce a lot of people just go through legal battles and miss the opportunity to end things well by going through a blessing ceremony for this part of their lives.

Here is how to end things well: When Israel left the slave house of Egypt, they did not directly proceed to the promised land where milk and honey flow. But God had them roam the desert for two generations. When Jesus died on the cross he did not directly come back to life but was buried and stayed there for three days. There is a pause between the old and the new. And that pause is not just being antsy about what is to come, it is about the reflection of the past: The time in Egypt was an overall horror story for God’s people but in the desert they learned to remember and appreciate that there was more food than they have now. When Jesus was in his grave, the disciples learned to be the church without following Jesus like a guru.

Again, the point is to pause and not just write off experiences as “good” or “bad”, as “negative” or “positive”. If you lost a loved one in 2017 don’t let that be your only memory for this year. If your house got flooded, find another memory as well. If your 2017 is all great because the Astros won the World Series, find something that didn’t go perfect this year. Be grateful for what went well and mourn what didn’t. Only after you have taken your heart through an honest review of 2017 will God be able to reach it with a blessed year 2018.


Happy Holidays or Merry Christmas?

If you are interested in a clash of ideologies, this is not written for you. If you think America is in trouble because fewer people say Merry Christmas, this is not written for you. “Happy Holidays” and “Merry Christmas” are not alternatives. It’s not one or the other. Just in the month of December there are XX holidays. So your safest bet it to use “Happy Holidays” most of this month.

With Advent being so late this year, Islam got a head-start in 2017 with Mawlid an Nabi, the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad on December 1. For Christians the season of Advent covers the four Sundays leading up to Christmas, December 3-24. December 6 is Saint Nicholas Day, the holiday to commemorate one of the cultural roots of Santa Claus. Catholics put an emphasis on the Immaculate Conception of Mary on December 8. Last Sunday you may have seen a parade of horses and many worshipers heading through town. Those were processions held in honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe, a December 12 holiday commemorating an apparition of Mary in Mexico. Our Jewish brothers and sisters celebrate the eight nights of Hanukkah December 13-20 this year. A miracle made the oil last to light all eight candles on the candelabra. Remember how Mary and Joseph couldn’t find a place in the inn? The week before Christmas is a week of Posadas Navidenas – their perilous journey reenacted by the Hispanic community. The winter solstice on December 21 is a turning point in the sky and probably one of the objective reasons why so many holidays pile up this time of year.

So far “happy holidays” would have been my seasonal greeting of choice. Now, December 24 changes that. Christmas Eve begins what the church calls Christmastide. The song calls it the 12 days of Christmas which end on Epiphany, January 6. Jesus’s birth, the incarnation of the Word of God, the divine becoming human, is a turning point that starts a whole new season. Advent was preparation, now Christmas means: Christ is born! That’s when I say: Merry Christmas!

But the holiday season continues. December 26 is a day that is remarkable for two deaths: the Prophet Zarathushtra for the Zoroastrian faith and Stephen, the first martyr of the Christian Church. And the wheel keeps turning until the babe in the manger gets martyred himself. When I say Merry Christmas I mean it. When I say happy holidays I mean it.


What are you giving up for Advent?

Earlier this year I went cold turkey and gave up on caffeine. Seven weeks without coffee, the entire Lent season from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday. The start was rocky and painful, eventually I adjusted. But guess what: A few months later I was totally back on with my coffee habit. It started out slowly. At first I did not drink two pots of drip coffee anymore but just a few shots of espresso twice a day. Then came multiple situations where there wasn’t any espresso, so I went back to drip coffee as well. By now I needed my regular fixes again.

This ended last Sunday. I reminded myself that Advent, just like Lent traditionally is a season of fasting. The two major Christ holidays – Easter and Christmas – each have their own preparatory fast season leading up to them. That’s why we have all these goodies in December. The four weeks leading up to Christmas used to be as strict a fast as the seven weeks leading up to Easter. People weren’t allowed to eat except one tiny meal of bread after dark. And they made sure to make it count. That’s where ginger bread originated.

Pretty soon the originally scarce nutritional boost of the fast turned into a seasonal treat. The bread got sweeter over timer. It got covered in chocolate. It got accompanied by all other kinds of baked goods and voila the indulgence escalated just like my coffee habit. From an innocent shot of espresso to thousands of sugary and buttery calories the original fast is but a distant memory.

To make a long history short: I am giving up caffeine for Advent this year. And I invite you to find something that you can do differently this time of year. Any habit change is good. It doesn’t matter whether you give up something or add something to your routine. Any intentional change helps to focus on the coming of Christ regardless of time of the year. Don’t get me wrong: I will not pass on any goodies, I just won’t have coffee with them.