New Year’s Eve is the 7th day of Christmas; the two holidays go together. Only in the mystery of Christmas, the Incarnation, the babe in Bethlehem, lies the answer to all our hopes and fears for years past, present and future.
What a difference it makes, looking back upon a passing year and forward to the new, to know and be confident in the love of God! Everything about our uncertain world looks different in that light. As Joseph understood when facing the wrath of Herod and the uncertainties of Egypt, the babe in the manger was nothing less than Immanuel, God with us, an undying light of hope in the midst of our dark and fearsome world.
Only with this confidence in a God who is truly with us, and for us, and boundless in his unconditional love for us, can we engage the darkness around us without losing hope. At the Buchenwald concentration camp, just months before his execution in April of 1945, Dietrich Bonhoeffer penned this New Year’s Eve poem:
“Should it be ours to drain the cup of grieving
even to the dregs of pain, at Thy command,
We will not falter, thankfully receiving,
all that is given by Thy loving hand.”
(The Cost of Discipleship)
One of the Christmas books I’ve been most delighted to discover this year is David McCullough, In the Dark Streets Shineth: A 1941 Christmas Eve Story. In this short little book, McCullough interweaves the stories of two American Christmas carols with an account of Winston Churchill’s trip, scarcely two weeks after Pearl Harbor, to visit Franklin Roosevelt. In speeches delivered the night of Christmas Eve, 1941, Roosevelt and Churchill rallied the American people to hope at the beginning of a world war. Churchill concluded:
“Here, then, for one night only, each home… should be a brightly-lighted island of happiness and peace.”
The next morning, McCullough explains, Churchill would hear for the first time the American Christmas carol whose lines echo the same hope:
“O Little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by.
Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting light,
The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.”
McCullough writes, “Churchill had spoken… of every home as a ‘brightly-lighted island’ in the dark. In the first stanza of ‘O Little Town of Bethlehem’ is the line, ‘Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting light.’ I like to think of Churchill and Roosevelt singing that line in particular.”
God’s love for us is truly boundless in Christ, a babe in the dark streets shining, Immanuel. Therefore, like Bonhoeffer, Roosevelt and Churchill, we take confidence that no adversity in the new year ahead shall overcome us.
“For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38–39)
In this sure hope and confidence, we wish you all a Happy New Year!
*McCullough’s attractive hard-cover book is illustrated with historical photographs and contains the full text of both Roosevelt’s and Churchill’s Christmas Eve speeches. An included DVD provides a video of the story, narrated by McCullough, accompanied by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir performing “O Little Town of Bethlehem” and “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.”