Most of us have been swept up in the momentum of the holiday season. We have passed the Christmas milestone and are approaching New Year’s Day, the third in the trilogy of holidays that we celebrate during this time each year -- Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s.
But too often, our focus is on holiday shopping, football, and social events, and we pass up the opportunity to seize the moment and take advantage of what all three holidays present to all of us. A second chance, and maybe even a new beginning.
On Thanksgiving Day, we recognize and celebrate the new beginning of the Pilgrims who made the two-month journey from England to America back in 1620. They too wanted a second chance. They were searching for a better life with the freedom to live and worship in their own way, free from the intolerance they faced under King James I and the Church of England. Their leaders created the Mayflower Compact, which established a new set of laws so that they could be treated equally and fairly as part of their new way of life. A rebirth. A new beginning for all of them.
The second link in the trilogy, and to Christians the most important, is the Christmas season. The Bible teaches that Christ died on the cross to give believers a second chance.
There is one book that I try to read over the holidays every year -- “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens. In the early 1960s I had a golden opportunity to study English Literature at Cambridge University in England, where my focus was on the writings of Dickens.
Dickens was a major writing personality in his day, and newspapers serialized many of his stories. He initially published under the pen name of “Boz.” He used this pseudonym for many of his early novels. He entertained his wide London audience with humor in books like, “The Pickwick Papers” and “The Life and Times of Nicholas Nickleby.” Dickens pulled at the heartstrings of his readers with the drama of “Oliver Twist” and “A Tale of Two Cities.” But as the Christmas season approached in 1843, Dickens began using his own name, and took on the role of a crusader with the publication of “A Christmas Carol.”
Most of us have seen this poignant Christmas story filled with an array of colorful characters like Ebenezer Scrooge, Tiny Tim, Bob Cratchit, The Ghost of Christmas Past, The Ghost of Christmas Present, and The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. But the real lessons of the spirit that emanate from this special time of year come, not from miserly Ebenezer Scrooge, but from his dead partner, Jacob Marley. While alive, Marley failed to help others, and in death he is damned to the agony of recognizing the pain and suffering of others, and being unable to help in anyway, and this is his special hell.
My attorney friend, Eric Duplantis, who practices law and writes in the small town of Franklin, Louisiana puts it this way: “In life, Marley’s worst sin was not his venality, but his indifference. After death he realizes this. But it’s too late. Death gave him compassion, but his sentence for a lifetime of indifference is an inability to act on the compassion he feels.”
Marley is given a single opportunity to do a good act, after which he must return to his Hell. The ghost gives Scrooge the greatest gift of all. Marley gives Scrooge the chance of redemption. The message here from Dickens is that even someone as lost as Ebenezer Scrooge can be saved if he seizes this one time gift of a second chance.
And now the completion of our annual trilogy -- the New Year! It’s a time for reflection of the old, and anticipation of the new. Should we make New Year’s resolutions? Of course we should! We ought to have this yearly audit of our lives. It’s a time to think about old opportunities that we may have forgotten, or that we passed up. This is also the perfect time to consider new opportunities that were not available in the past. Here are a few of my resolutions.
Renew old friendships. This past summer, I attended my 50th anniversary reunion for graduates of my alma mater, the University of North Carolina. Four years earlier, I returned to St. Louis for my high school reunion. What great friends I had then, that somehow, through time and distance, had gotten away. I now have a whole cadre of renewed friendships that through email and Facebook I have a second chance to have and enjoy.
Try new things. I hope I’m never too old to experiment, study, read, and discuss new thoughts and ideas. New destinations, a new job opportunity, perhaps a new hobby. I’ve always wanted to paint landscapes. Maybe this is the year to give it a try.
Take a renewed look at things I should have done. Interests that were passed over long ago might be more relevant and available in the coming year. Physicist and inventor Robert H. Goddard wrote: “It is difficult to say what is impossible, for the dream of yesterday is the hope of today and the reality of tomorrow.”
Set specific new goals. Oh, I know this is an overused and often broken resolution. Get healthy, lose weight, spend more family time. But I think the process is important. Even though life is full of uncertainties and difficulties, it’s worthwhile to set out, reach for and even dream of what you hope to attain in the coming year.
The New Year, again, gives us a second chance. We all should learn from, use, and celebrate the American Trilogy. Stage three begins on January first, just few days away. May you and your family have a blessed and healthy holiday season and a very happy New Year. As Tiny Tim said in “The Christmas Carol,” God bless us every one.