Quick commercial – for one last time 🙂 Would greatly appreciate it if you would consider supporting the Newman Catholic Center at Montclair State in our Annual Christmas appeal. You can read about it at http://www.msunewman.com/appeal . Many thanks for your consideration!
So what New Year’s Resolutions have you decided to make this year?
According to one survey, over 60% of Americans make them, seeing January 1st as an opportunity to make a new start. To set new goals for the coming 12 months to change their lives in dramatic and significant ways. You can guess what the top resolutions are just by looking at all the commercials promising you they will help you succeed in actualizing the change you want:
-Jenny Craig, Nutri-System, Weight Watchers all are announcing new, innovative plans guaranteeing better results than ever before – with new menus, new programs, new meetings to help people lose weight.
-For those wanting to quit smoking – there are gums, patches, tapes, counselors who promise they will be able to help people quit that addiction once and for all.
-And it seems every sports club and fitness center is trying to entice people to get into that perfect shape they’ve always wanted with membership fees waved, free consultations or training sessions and other incentives to get people to join their gym.
All of those different marketing techniques are successful these first days and weeks of 2018 because they speak to that desire within us that craves change. To move away from something destructive, something unhealthy, something we simply want to be rid of for something better, fulfilling, even life-changing. Despite the defeatist cliche that “New Years Resolutions are made to be broken,” its obvious that all of these different products or systems have been helpful to people, otherwise they would have been gone by now.
The thing is, as anyone who’s tried these things in the past can tell you, a person can’t just sign up for Weight Watchers and lose 40 lbs or buy a pack of Nicorrette Gum and never pick up a cigarette after doing so for 20 years or become a member of a gym, take a tour and work out three times and be ready for a photo shoot for a fitness magazine. All of those initial steps are just that, initial steps. The change will only come about when we keep responding, keep faithful to the promises, resolutions, the changes we desire to seek. The change becomes real when people resist the temptation to go back – to have just one more cigarette – cheat on that diet – skip the gym today and go tomorrow.
In today’s Gospel for this feast of the Epiphany, these magi, or kings, or wisemen – whatever you want to call them – we read that they “saw a star” and set out to follow it, searching for this newborn king. Something within themselves was desiring change. Something made them look for something new. And the light from this star spoke to that desire. Because they were attentive, they were looking… they set out to see what was it about this sight that was so attractive to them.
That’s the thing: a star is visible to everyone. There were people that first Christmas that were waiting, longing, hoping for a the same things that these magi were. Maybe they weren’t paying attention. Maybe they had given up hope. Maybe they didn’t look, or they were too busy to notice how even creation itself was responding to God being born into the human family… how the cosmos itself was reacting to the light of the world coming in Jesus birth with this new light, this new star rising in the dark night.
But its not enough just to go and see… It’s not enough to be looking, desiring and experiencing that initial encounter. Upon following that star, and finding the baby Jesus, we read that they were “overjoyed” at the sight – they prostrate themselves, they pay him homage… and then we read “having been warned in a dream…they departed for their country by another way.”
For the magi, the new born king that they find after following this star wasn’t simply a sight to marvel at like a Fourth of July fireworks display – something awesome to look at and then simply go about to life as usual on the 5th of July as you did on the 3rd. They noticed the potential for their lives to change when they first set out to meet Jesus Christ, and after that encounter, they realize for that potential to become realized, they can never go back to the life they lived before… That’s the message that the wise men from the Epiphany speak to us…. That Jesus Christ can only effectively change lives if someone commits to the change they experience once they’ve met him.. What makes the Epiphany memorable is that they progress in a new direction that they’ve been set out on… They can never go back the same way they came.
The same is true for us. With each New Year that comes, with each resolution we make, we give voice to a desire within us for something new for something to change in our lives. And for many, there’s an unspoken, yet real desire for change and newness in ways other than those noble goals of healthier physical lives. That the things they are doing are not bringing them peace or joy. That the direction their life is going is not fulfilling.
The star, shedding the light of Christ in the darkness of the world still calls out to those who seek a change in their lives – both here and now and in eternity. Just like those changes we seek each New Year, there’s no quick, easy fix for those changes to be actualized. The Peace, the Joy, the fullness of life isn’t going to happen simply by our being here at a single Sunday Mass. It will only occur when we too encounter Jesus Christ here, and choose to be faithful to hearing the voice and following the direction of our King who calls out to us not to make some new resolution but to renew our baptismal promises of living a new life, follow his new course, not just on New Years, but each and every day. And in that new course, we discover a beautiful truth that Pope Benedict shared a few years ago: “Our heart is restless for God and remains so…But not only are we restless for God: God’s heart is restless for us. God is waiting for us. He is looking for us. He knows no rest either, until he finds us. God’s heart is restless, and that is why he set out on the path towards us – to Bethlehem, to Calvary, from Jerusalem to Galilee and on to the very ends of the earth. God is restless for us, he looks out for people willing to “catch” his unrest, his passion for us, people who carry within them the searching of their own hearts and at the same time open themselves to be touched by God’s search for us.”
May the wise men’s example be our story as well. May we set out to seek Christ not simply here at Sunday Mass, but in the midst of the darkness of the world outside these walls. Because He’s still here with us. His light still can be found even if it seems hard to perceive – if we are looking, are attentive, are desiring to see it. Let us set out to find it and upon our new encounters with Jesus Christ, and also find that we can never go back the same way we came.