This week I have been struck by the celebration of the New Year; how the world celebrates this passing of time and what it means. When we have the idea of change and make resolutions to affect them; when we put the past behind us and look for a new start. But just where are we looking? Where do we expect these life altering events to come from? From the New Year?
Then there is our Christmas celebration of the past two weeks, especially today. In a very real way the Gospel reading for the Solemnity of the Epiphany shows us an alternative to the New Year’s resolutions. Today’s reading shows that with the encounter with our Lord our lives can change, and if we allow it, for the better.
But, the operative phrase here is ‘if we allow it’. We have the final say.
It is much easier to throw ourselves into the hope of the New Year – it is inanimate. It doesn’t judge, it doesn’t react. The New Year doesn’t change us, we try to change ourselves. When our resolutions for change fail nothing happens; times goes on and so do we.
But, an encounter with the Lord, with the person who is God, is different. At first it might seem much more intimidating.
- First, we are opening ourselves up to ‘a someone’; and this someone is holding us accountable; He desires our best and laments at our shortcomings. He loves us and we love Him, and as we all know, the pain of letting a loved-one down is a great pain.
- Second, this encounter with Jesus does change us, it demands a newness to our actions and lives; which means it demands real effort.
But this encounter with Jesus is much more than a meeting where we set goals with an observer; it is a conversion, a retooling. Christ brings to this encounter more than just aloof and obdurate observation. He brings love and with it, help. As with the celebration of the New Year we bring to Christ our baggage from the past, but we bring more to Christ; we bring the gifts that He gave us as well. When we allow this encounter to enter our souls Christ takes our experiences, our baggage, and our gifts and uses them in ways that we could never have thought of. He remolds us into a healthier person. His presence calms the hurts and failures of the past – places them in the perspective of the future, indeed eternity. His use of our gifts isn’t surprising since He gave us these gifts and with this encounter He is guiding them to be used as He intended.
The issue is whether we have the strength and desire to allow ourselves to be changed, allow ourselves to be pointed in a new and unknown direction. Do we have the faith to be led? Our part in this encounter is to place our doubts and fears aside and follow without reserve; which leads to using our talents and gifts in ways that cause change in our seemingly comfortable and protected lives. Following someone blindly, trusting, is not easy. Our life experiences with this type of trust give us valid cause for concern; but this is different, He is God not just another person. This is why the psalmist can proclaim:
‘Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no help. When his breath departs he returns to his earth; on that very day his plans perish. Happy is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God, who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them; who keeps faith for ever;’
Brothers and sisters, we are celebrating the New Year, and the world, in varying degrees, looks hopefully to the future for a better life. They make plans to change, to turn away from the old and travel the new.
Today’s feast celebrates the same; only more powerful and more dependable. But we are not basing this on the passing of one second to another, we are basing it on an encounter with a person. Someone who is real, who has help for us. Someone, who walks with us, who has given us His bride to be our strength when we are weak, our teacher when we are confused, our guide when we are lost.
In the old standard ‘Auld Lang Syne’, sung at midnight of New Year day, we ask wistfully: ‘Should old acquaintances be forgotten, and never brought to mind?’ Then there is the book of Revelation: ‘I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.’
Where do we look for a better future? Where do we get our strength for change? Where is our hope from?
Passing time? Or our constant and eternal friend?’