2021, Blessing or Curse?
December 30, 2020
by John Partridge
Will this pandemic influenced, socially distanced, Christmas, and the following New Year, be filled with “good news of great joy” or feel more like we were hit by a freight train? And I think that my best guess is, it depends.
I was reminded this week of how we often find exactly the things for which we are looking. We can watch same news stories and Republicans and Democrats will each hear entirely different things. And each of those things will conform to the opinions and worldviews that they had before they watched it. Scientifically, it’s called “confirmation bias.” We tend to seek out views and opinions with which we agree, and even if we listen to unbiased reporting, what we hear is influenced by what we expected to hear.
The same is true of much more mundane things. I read a story once about an entomologist (you know, a guy who studies bugs) and his friend who were walking along a sidewalk in a big city. Suddenly the man said, “Did you hear that?” He stopped walking and started searching intently until he found a particular species of cricket in a crack in the sidewalk. The friend marveled that the man had been able to hear a cricket chirp over the noise of the city, but in answer the entomologist simply pulled a coin from his pocket and dropped it. Instantly a half dozen people turned and started looking for the dropped coin. Smiling, the man said, my coin was no louder than the cricket, but people tend to find the things that they are thinking about.
I don’t know if that story is true or not, but I know that our biases shape our daily lives, and our enjoyment of it, in powerful ways. Years ago, I had a coworker who saw the entire world as a terrible place that always seemed to be out to destroy her. Every conversation with her was one in which she described all the accidents and missed opportunities of her recent past and never once included the any stories of her successes, or even stories of her young son. Her focus on the negative entirely robbed her life of the joys that could be found in her everyday life.
And so, as we enter a new year, and as we continue to live with restrictions and precautions of this current pandemic, I urge you to be careful of your biases about how you look at the world. If we are looking for crickets or dropped coins, we are likely to find the things for which we are paying attention. If we look for sadness and disappointment, we will certainly find them. But, if we look for happiness, good news, and positive influences, I am convinced that we are more likely to find those instead.
If we look at the Christmas story with this in mind, we realize that Herod was always looking at the world to find the next person that might threaten his power and control. The Pharisees and the Sadducees, despite being biblical scholars, were always looking out for themselves. But the wise men were looking for signs and the shepherds were looking for hope. And so, when the star appeared in the heavens, everyone saw exactly what their focus and biases guided them to see. The wise men saw a sign, the shepherds found hope, Mary and Joseph found answered prayer, Herod found a threat, and the religious leaders were so focused on themselves that they almost missed it entirely.
And so, as we enter this new year, whether we find blessings or curses in 2021 is almost entirely up to us, to our attitudes, and to our biases. Rather than enter this new year searching for threats, or looking only for our own selfish interests, let us instead enter it as pilgrims in search of hope, faith, and love. We are, after all, the ambassadors that carry “good news of great joy, which is for all the people.” Despite the pandemic and its economic influence, despite our current, hyper-partisan political climate, despite our separation and isolation, if we are paying attention, I am convinced that there are, and will be, nuggets of good, silver linings, and pockets of joy that can be found. Let us keep our eyes on Jesus, who is the “good news of great joy” for all people, the hope of the world, and the Prince of Peace because whatever it is that we choose to seek…
…is almost certainly what we will find.
I choose to seek faith, hope, joy, peace, and love.
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*Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio. Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you. Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership. You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org. If you have questions, you can ask them in our discussion forum on Facebook (search for Pastor John Online). These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.