On New Year’s I usually begin by quoting something that the late comedian George Burns once wrote in The New York Times: “Growing up on the Lower East Side of Manhattan,” burns wrote, “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.”
New Year’s, as Burns’ comical comment reminds us, is, by definition, something new, a gift freely given us that offers an opportunity for hope. Someone said to me recently that he was looking forward to 2019 because, at least, it won’t be an election year. The only problem with that, I reminded him, is that long before the end of the year the next election campaign will have already begun!
Elections aside, in whatever way we approach the beginning of a new year, hope has to be a part of it. To be sure, for all our holiday cheer, many of us may be marking the end of another very difficult and challenging year by looking ahead to 2019 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 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 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 people, 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 we would never otherwise have had. “The face of God,” as Pope Francis reminded us In his Urbi et Orbi Christmas Message, “Did not appear in an angel, but in one man, born in a specific time and place. By his incarnation, the Son of God tells us that salvation comes through love, acceptance, respect for this poor humanity of ours, which we all share in a great variety of races, languages, and cultures.”
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 2019 – with gratitude as his gift and to enter it not in fear or anxiety, but with the hope that counts as one of God’s greatest Christmas gifts to us.
As you probably know by now, 2019 will be a special year for the Paulist Fathers, for we are celebrating the Bicentennial of the birth of our founder, Servant of God Isaac Hecker, who was born 200 years ago on December 18, 1819. In a famous New Year’s Day sermon, fittingly titled “How to Be Happy,” Hecker, said:
It is the common custom in meeting of friends at this season, to greet each other with a Happy New Year! This is a praiseworthy and pleasant custom, and in accordance with it, I greet you all, my dear brethren, with a Happy New Year! Happy New Year to all our friends and the inhabitants of this city, and to all our countrymen, whether dwelling north or south, east or west, in this our native land. Happy New year to all men of whatever race or clime; for God is our common Creator, and in Christ we are all sons of God, and therefore brethren.
And so, I too wish you all today, a Happy New Year!
Homily for the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, Immaculate Conception Church, Knoxville, TN, New Year's Day, January 1, 2019