Feast of the Holy Family. Col. 3:12-17; Mt. 2:13-15, 19-23.
AIM: To give the basis for true happiness in the new year.
We stand on this day after Christmas almost on the threshold of a new year. What will the year 2005 bring us? We cannot know. All of us hope that it will be a good year. It is this hope which inspires New Year's resolutions.
The church helps us to form our resolutions by placing before us, in today's second reading, an exhortation to people who have just crossed the most important threshold this side of heaven: baptism. Baptism gives us new life, the life of God himself, who is in Christ Jesus. The people to whom Paul wrote that exhortation were baptized by immersion. As they emerged from the baptismal water, they put on new clothes. The clothes symbolized the garment of Christian living. That new life which Paul describes for them can serve as a model for our New Year's resolution. It has three aspects.
1. "As the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do."
The people to whom Paul was writing had just received, through baptism, God's precious gift of forgiveness. Like all God's gifts, this one is meant to be shared. If we don't share it, we lose it. Here are some questions for questions for reflection and self-examination:
As I approach the threshold of a New Year, am I conscious of my unworthiness before God? that it is only by his goodness and mercy that I have been spared to experience a new year at all? that I can stand before God today, that I will be able to stand before him in judgment only in reliance on his mercy, not on my good character or good conduct record?
Only if we have this consciousness of falling short, of moral failure, is there any chance of happiness in the new year. The First Letter of John tells us: "If we say, 'We are free of the guilt of sin,' we deceive ourselves ... But if we acknowledge our sins, he who is just can be trusted to forgive our sins and cleanse us from every wrong." (1:8f)
Perhaps you're thinking: 'I can't see my sins; I think I'm doing OK.' If you're thinking that, you are probably measuring yourself not by Jesus Christ, but by others. Don't bother looking around at others. Look up, at Jesus as he hangs on the cross, and you will soon see how far you fall short, how little you deserve his love. Jesus gives you his love nonetheless. It is not a reward for services rendered. It is a free gift. He asks you to share this give with others. This brings us to our first New Year's resolution:
To see myself as a sinner, but forgiven; and to share this gift of forgiveness with others.
2. "Be thankful", Paul tells the newly baptized. They had every reason for thankfulness. In the waters of baptism their lives had been changed. Here are some more questions for self-examination:
Am I a thankful person? Does gratitude come naturally to me? Or do I find it easier to grumble and complain? For many people grumbling is easier. They have a gloomy view of life; they expect things will turn out badly. That is why so much of our news is bad. People are interested in bad news. It confirms what many already believe. Good news doesn't get much coverage. Let me give you a recent example.
A few weeks ago Afghanistan inaugurated its first democratically elected president ever: Hamid Karzai. Here is some of what he said in his inaugural address: "Whatever we have achieved in Afghanistan - the peace, the election, the reconstruction, the life that Afghans are living today in peace, the children going to school, the businesses, the fact that Afghanistan is again a respected member of the international community - is from the help that the United States of America gave us. Without that help Afghanistan would be in the hands of terrorists - destroyed, poverty-stricken, and without its children going to school or getting an education. We are very, very grateful, to put it in the simple words that we know, to the people of the United States of America for bringing us this day." For Americans, those words were very good news indeed. Yet few Americans ever heard them. Gratitude, it seems, is not newsworthy.
Jesus came to proclaim good news! He does not gloss over any of the evil in the world. How could he when it brought him to the cross? But Jesus Christ knows that the power of good is stronger than the power of evil. That is the message of Easter - and we celebrate a "little Easter" every Sunday. The risen Lord proclaims good news. It is by the power of this good news that we live. God's free forgiveness is part of this good news. Forgiveness tells us that we need not drag behind us an ever lengthening trail of guilt. God's forgiveness enables us to begin anew. This brings us to our second New Year's resolution:
To concentrate in the New Year not on the bad, but on the good; and to be thankful.
Let no day pass without counting your blessings. That will enable to you fulfil Paul's exhortation in our second reading: "Sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, with gratitude in your hearts to God." A person who is looking always for the good is looking for God. Only if we do that can we find happiness in the year ahead. Finally, Paul writes in our second reading -
3. "Whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus ..."
There is the rule for Christian living. Can I do this, say this, for Jesus Christ? Can I offer it to him, be glad he is with me as I do or say it, that he sees me and hears me? Only if we can say Yes to these questions can we find happiness in the New Year. This gives us our third New Year's resolution:
Whatever I say or do, I shall say or do it in the name of the Lord Jesus.
As you cross the threshold of the New Year, take with you Paul's exhortation to newly baptized Christians. It will give you the basis for true happiness in the coming year. But take something more - the picture of the Holy Family in our gospel reading. Like many today - tragically many - they are refugees, fleeing from danger. They cannot know what lies ahead, save that it will be difficult. Soon they will disappear. Save for one glimpse of Jesus as a twelve-year-old in the Jerusalem Temple, we know nothing of his boyhood, adolescence, and early manhood. Those are the hidden years. From what we know of Jesus later, however, it is not difficult to fill in the gaps. As a boy, in adolescence, as a young man, Jesus was learning to apply Paul's three principles:
- Forgiveness: can we imagine that Jesus ever bore a grudge?
- Thankfulness: even as a child, much more as a man, Jesus had a sense of unbounded wonder and gratitude at the greatness of his Father's blessings to him, and to others.
- Doing all for God: that was Jesus' guiding principle at every age.
Those three principles, which guided Jesus' life from childhood, are his New Year's gift to you. Take them with you as you cross the threshold of the New Year, and then it will be a truly happy New Year. Because it will be, for you personally, a year lived in, with, and for him who loves you more than you can ever imagine: Jesus Christ, your savior and Lord; but also your elder brother, your lover, and your best friend.