Text: Mark 1:4-11
Let me begin this New Year with a confession. When it comes to the whole culture around New Year’s celebrations, I am a certified New Year’s Grinch. I hate when some arbitrary date gets pushed upon me and I am supposed to follow a prescribed social protocol that has about as much substance to it as a marshmallow.
As each New Year’s approaches, I am weary in being told to worry about: How should we spend New Year’s Eve this year? What will we eat on New Year’s Day? Will the college playoff games keep us on the edge of our seats or put us to sleep? What is the latest wonder diet to try after the holiday binge of way too much food and drink?
I enjoy some peace and quiet after the storms of Advent and Christmas, but unfortunately, the quiet is soon consumed with so much silliness. We all know the cancer that was growing on December 31 will still be growing on January 1. The debt of the old year did not dissolve into magic dust when the ball fell in Times Square ushering in the new year. As far as I can tell, I have yet to awake on any New Year’s Day to find myself wiser, healthier or wealthier. No matter how hard society pushes it, New Year’s is just another day.
That is why I much prefer the way the church keeps time. We keep time around a person, not an event. From Advent to Christmas to Epiphany, from Lent to Holy Week to Easter, from Pentecost to all the festival and ordinary days, Jesus is the church’s timekeeper. As the church keeps time, the New Year arrived very early last December with the arrival of Advent.
I wonder, though, if even the church has us starting the year a bit too early. I wonder if the seasons of Advent and even Christmas are actually one long New Year’s Eve, times of preparation, longing, yearning for something new, for someone new. I wonder if the real New Year actually begins not with the mysterious arrival of the Magi in Bethlehem, but with the boisterous, thunderous arrival of John the Baptist at the Jordan.
If that is the case, I know exactly how Jesus spent New Year’s. On New Year’s, Jesus was not getting sloshed with the latest mixed drink fad and slobbering a kiss as the crowd sang, “Auld Lang Syne.” He was not taking turns spitting out resolutions for how this New Year was going to be totally different from last year. He was not doing his best to make January 1st more special than any other day of the year, because society said that was the way it was supposed to be.
The Gospel of Mark does not provide a specific date, but when Jesus stepped foot in the Jordan and the Spirit of God grabbed hold of him like a dive-bombing dove, the heavens split wide open from top to bottom and the church’s “New Year” arrived.
When Jesus shook dry from his baptism, he did not say one word. He did not make one resolution for the New Year that arrived with his baptism. The only word spoken at the baptism of Jesus, the only resolution worth remembering was spoken by God to Jesus: “You are my Son, my Beloved, with you I am well pleased.” That was a New Year’s Day not to forget. In Jesus, at the Jordan, dripping wet, you and I hear God’s resolve as God declares about Jesus: “You are my Beloved.”
The more cynical among us and within us can easily respond, “Yea and so what?” “I still don’t have a job.” “The country is still crippled by massive divisions.” “My greatest love is still leaving me for a better offer.” “The killing continues in Kiev and Gaza, our carbon footprints continue to choke the life out of the good earth, racist tropes still dance with glee across the land.”
To the cynical among us and within us, the late theologian, Shirley Guthrie, said it as well as I could ever hope to say. “All of us could be tempted to give up in despair when we take a hard look at the world around us and the mess we make of our own lives . . . But if we believe that since Easter the powers of evil are fighting a losing battle and that the one that has already conquered them is still at work to finish what he began, then we can take heart nevertheless to keep fighting, however powerful the enemy without and within may seem.”
Shirley says this because as the church keeps time the past, present and future are dance partners with Jesus. What we celebrate on every New Year’s Day, in every church season and on every day of our lives is not so much our resolve – though that is never to be quickly dismissed – but we celebrate God’s resolve to love embodied in the person of Jesus, a resolve that makes our resolutions possible. In the person of Jesus, God resolves to forgive us and to love us and love the world in all our, in all its, brokenness, and though you and I may be labeled: “naïve,” “dangerous,” “out of touch,” God’s resolve to forgive and to love climbed even onto a cross, a resolve to forgive and to love that can give our resolve wings to fly.
There is no harder resolution than the one God makes, no harder resolution to keep than the resolve God keeps. For at the baptism of Jesus, God resolves to engage the world with forgiveness and love. And there is no harder resolution to make, much less to keep, than to forgive and to love.
A few years back, I received a belated Christmas card with words from a young woman who took an interfaith trip to Israel and Palestine before the most recent war broke out. As I share her words, you can hear God’s resolve to forgive and to love that makes our resolutions to forgive and to love possible.
My friend writes: We all build so many walls to protect ourselves against those we fear, against those who are different, against those who have harmed us in romance, against those who remind us of the parts of ourselves we dislike, against anyone who represents a threat (real or imagined) to our survival. How likely is it that the people on the other side of that wall are really as inhuman as our fears have persuaded us to believe? . . . Fear pushes people apart, builds walls, arms itself with heavy machinery, pushes away anyone who is different. Love embraces the different, the flawed. Love creates music, art, children, life. Given a choice between fear and love, I have to believe that love is the way to go.
Shaking dry from his dip in the Jordan, Jesus looks out on a world, our world, that over time will misunderstand him, deny him, betray him, torture him, and execute him and yet he continues to live out God’s resolve to forgive and to love; he is the consummate New Year’s resolution from God, reminding us day after day “that love is the way to go.”
It is only the seventh of January and I have already seen several of my resolutions for the New Year go the way of the dinosaur. I give thanks, though, that the New Year and each new day comes with the sure promise that God’s resolution to forgive us and to love us never fails.
It is in that confidence and that confidence alone that I can wish us all a blessed, forgiving, loving, and hope-filled New Year.
From our home to yours, then, Happy New Year!