The holidays are over; and we're ready to get back to work. How many have have made a few resolutions for the New Year? I confess I didn't.
There are books, for example, I always thought I should read and never have; I'm not going to read them this year either.
And there may be a day I miss reading the newspaper, and I'm not going to kid myself about that in 2019. So, if I haven't read today's newspaper by tomorrow, I'm recycling it.
Perhaps the best resolution for the new year is to cultivate a focus on the presence of God in our lives, to become aware of God's presence within ourselves, and let the glory of God shine forth in our daily routine. That's enough about New Year resolutions!
Today we celebrate the Epiphany or the manifestation or showing forth of the child Jesus as the messiah to the magi. The epiphany is a grand celebration for Orthodox Christians, especially in Tarpon Springs.
I was with family in New York City over the Christmas holidays, and again we had a conversation about the origins of “little Christmas” or the Feast of the Epiphany. My sister Maureen observed that if the wise men had been wise women, they would have asked directions from the get-go, arrived on time, helped deliver the baby, cleaned the stable, made a casserole, and brought practical gifts.
Seriously, we really don’t know who the biblical visitors were--wise men or astrologers or spice traders. All we know is that they were non-Jews who came from far, far away, guided by a mysterious bright star. They came to pay homage to this Jewish baby called Jesus.
The word of God from Isaiah takes us back in our imaginations to the sixth century before Jesus. Ancient Babylonia conquered Jerusalem, tore the temple down, and deported many Jews. Then Persia conquered Babylonia, and the Jews were set free, to rebuild their city. The author in this passage refers to a new Jerusalem. A divine light will emanate from this shining city on a hill and all people, Jews as well as non-Jews, will acknowledge and walk by this light.
Christians see Jesus as this light who illuminates darkness, the light who shows human beings the ultimate purpose of life: to be in relationship with God and thereby manifest the glory of God through who we are and what we do.
St. Paul's letter to the Christian community at Ephesus in Turkey outlines our future: we are coheirs to the kingdom of God, co-workers of Jesus in bringing about the fullness of the kingdom. Jesus is indeed our guide in this work: a pathway for the lost; a loaf of bread for the spiritually hungry; an arm for the weak; a companion for the lonely; a beacon of hope for all.
In the Gospel according to Matthew, we have all the ingredients of a great story: exotic visitors, a wicked king, court intrigue, a mysterious star, precious gifts, a new child. The magi give homage to this child with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, highly symbolic gifts about the identity of this child.
Gold can symbolize kingship or divinity, the things of God; and the coin of this child’s heavenly realm are the virtues of self-discipline, compassion, responsibility, friendship, courage, perseverance, honesty, decency, respect and faith in God. The author may be asking us: are these virtues the “currency” of our own lives?
Frankincense with its wonderful fragrance and medicinal magic can symbolize healing, and this child came to heal our wounds and bridge the chasm separating us from God and one another. We too are called to be healers.
Myrrh or ointment can symbolize a burial embalmment, and this child through his dying/rising re-established our relationship with God and designated us as co-heirs to God’s promise of eternal life.
Now who is this child to whom the magi give their homage? This newborn messiah, soon to grow into the adult messiah, completely human and completely divine, is the exemplar or prototype or model of what it means to be an authentic human being. That is why some ask themselves as they go about their daily routines: what would Jesus do in this or that circumstance?
With Jesus as our model—his life, ministry, dying and rising--God invites us, from an infinite number of possibilities, to become the best version of ourselves.
But what is that? In other words, what is our essential purpose?
We are called to be in relationship with God by living a holy life, every man and every woman, without exception, regardless of age, race, socioeconomic background, career or calling in life.
Holiness is allowing God to enter into the very fiber of our being so that we can become the best version of ourselves through who we are and everything we do. It's trying to be true to our inner best self; it's a willingness to go the extra mile to make something “just right” because it’s the better thing to do; it's striving to choose the right thing to do in all our decisions, small and great, that affect our work, career, family and social life, the rearing of children, relationships with others, and even our leisure time.
Yes, with Jesus as our model, and trying to become the best version of ourselves, now is the time to renew ourselves spiritually as we begin a new year.
A wise Middle Eastern mystic said this about himself:
“I was a revolutionary when I was young, and my prayer to God was: ‘Lord, give me the energy to change the world.’
“As I approached middle age and realized that my life was half gone without my changing a single soul, I changed my prayer to: ‘Lord, give me the grace to change all those who come into contact with me. Just my family and friends and I will be satisfied.’
“Now that I am an old man and my days are numbered, I have begun to see how foolish I have been. My one prayer now is: ‘Lord, give me the grace to change myself, to become the best version of myself.’ If I had prayed this right from the start, I would not have wasted my life.”
Now is indeed a time to change ourselves: to re-create ourselves, to re-energize our life with God and with one another.
It's time to begin again, to become the best version of ourselves.