Happy New Year!
Usually on New Year’s I like to start with what the late comedian George Burns once wrote in The New York Times: “Growing up on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, I always looked forward to New Year’s mainly because it was the only thing we could afford that was really new. And we always believed that things were going to get better during the New Year.”
Someone suggested recently that, if nothing else, the end of the year means that the election is finally over!
Of course, the election may be over but its consequences, whether for good or for ill, will be with us for a long time. And one of those consequences is that next election campaign will begin soon enough!
New Year’s – especially the run-up to the end of the old year – lends itself to both nostalgic and serious reflections both about the state of the world and about one’s own life, about where one has been so far and where one may be headed in whatever time may yet be allotted. But New Year’s, as George Burns’ comical comment reminds us, is, by definition, something new, a gift freely given us that offers an opportunity for hope. So election anxieties aside, however we approach the beginning of a new year, hope – like that which George Burns expressed growing up - ought to be a part of it.
To be sure, for all our holiday cheer, many of us may be marking the end of a very difficult and challenging year by looking ahead to 2017 with more than a little anxiety. It’s not for nothing, after all, that we pray every day at Mass that we may be safe from all distress, as we await the blessed hope and the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.
But, if our distress and anxiety as we begin this new year are real enough, so too must be our hope, the hope we all share as Church, the hope we have been proclaiming this Christmas season, and on which we must all rely in all things and at all times, all the year round: the blessed hope and the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.
Our hope is founded and focused on Jesus Christ, the one whose birth 2000+ years ago is the very basis for the calendar change we mark today. When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman – Mary the Mother of God and the Mother of the Church. He was born under the law – that is, he was a member of the Jewish People, circumcised on the 8th day of his earthly life, in fulfillment of God’s covenant with his Chosen People. God’s showing up in the world in Jesus – born to a particular mother, of a particular nation, in a particular place, at a particular time in human history – has realigned all of time and given all of history a new and more hope-filled meaning, giving us a hope for the future which we would never otherwise have had.
That future is what challenges us today. It is the challenge – as Pope Francis has said in his New Year’s message to the world – “to apply the Beatitudes in the exercise of [our] respective responsibilities. It is a challenge to build up society, communities and businesses by acting as peacemakers. It is to show mercy by refusing to discard people, harm the environment, or seek to win at any cost.”
Time has always been very precious – precisely, I suppose, because we have only such a limited supply of it. By becoming part of our time, however, God has turned our limited time on earth into a time of unlimited opportunity. So today he invites us to receive this new year – this year of our Lord 2017 – with gratitude as his gift and to enter it not in fear or anxiety, but ready to respond to the challenge of the future with the hope that counts as one of God’s greatest Christmas gifts to us.
Homily for the Solemnity of Mary the Mother of God, Immaculate Conception Church, Knoxville, TN, New Year's Day, January 1, 2017.