I really like this picture of the blue cityscape with fireworks in the sky because it visually reminds me of both New Years and Epiphany. The two always fall in the same week on the calendar: the New Year on January 1 and Epiphany on January 6, but in our thoughts and actions, I think we usually keep these secular and religious holidays separate from each other. Even though colorful fireworks usher in the New Year and a bright, singular star, Epiphany, we think of January 1 as being for recovery and resolutions, while Epiphany is about the Light shining in the darkness, the Magi bowing to the Christ child with gifts, and the baptism of the adult Jesus in the Jordan River. Where’s the link? Well, I think one thing connecting the two days is anticipation.
This coming Sunday, for instance, the first after the Epiphany, many folks in the pews will hear anew the story of Jesus’ baptism, this year from Matthew’s version. The lead up is John preaching about the Reign of God: “Change your hearts and lives! Here comes the Kingdom of Heaven!” (Common English Bible) It was their anticipation of God’s leadership in their time that drew the crowds and Jesus to that liminal river to be baptized. It was anticipation that their world could be different, sin and foolishness washed away, and their own lives new, full of light and purpose!
For some people a new year stirs up anticipation and serves as that sort of threshold. They hope that in and of itself 2017 will give them the verve to realize their goals and dreams. The changing of the year does do this, I’m sure, to a degree, but I find that I need more fuel for the long haul than just typing that new number on the emails I send. So to sustain my feelings of anticipation, excitement, and hope, I find myself returning to the sacred story.
After Jesus’ baptism and that glorious beginning, the same Holy Spirit that had descended upon him in the form of a dove drove him into the wilderness where the temptations surfaced. I think of that period when a New Year’s resolution to lose weight meets the discipline of working out and eating less, only way more so. Jesus comes up against his deep and largely hidden desires for fame and power, the limits of the flesh, and enticements to abuse divine authority. This is the crucible that not only he has known, the intersection where one’s anticipation of the Reign of God is forced to learn the discipline of letting God actually rule!
This is the between-a-rock-and-a-hard-place, where the rubber meets the road, when push comes to shove, when one has to cut bait or fish, and John realized it, even when he issued the invitation to the water. On the Jordan boundary between the former things and the Promised Land, he declared: “Here comes the Kingdom of Heaven. Change your hearts and lives.”
To receive and experience the Kingdom that we say we so anticipate, to forgive ourselves and others, to be new, and in order for 2017 to be a truly different year, you and I must change our hearts and lives, that is, practice following the lead of the Holy One whom we love, through hunger, temptation, and wilderness, here and now. Indeed, at the very crux of the anticipation of God’s leadership fulfilled on earth as it is in heaven is us taking the extended hand and actively praying, moment-to-moment, with Jesus.
“Your will be done” is the surest and strongest connection between New Years and Epiphany.