Each New Year reminds me of something 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."
That comment seems as appropriate now as it did when he wrote it. New Year’s Eve 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 going in whatever time may yet be allotted. But a New Year is, by definition, something new, a gift freely given us that offers an opportunity for hope. And, goodness knows, we are all in need of a strong shot of hope this year. On the one hand, the election is thankfully over and we can hopefully look forward to a new administration and a better future. And then there is a vaccine, which will likely be more widely available in the coming year – a sign of hope if ever there was one.
Even so, for all our attempts at holiday cheer, many of us may be marking the end of this very difficult and challenging year with more than a little anxiety. Speaking for myself, I must confess that, on top of everything else, I find myself at the beginning of this new year feeling lots of additional anxiety, as I prepare to travel, which is itself a very scary thing to have to do right now, to move on to what one might euphemistically call my last assignment. All transitions are stressful – more so, I fear, the older one gets. 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 the distress and anxiety we all feel as we begin this new year are real enough, so must be our hope, the hope brought us by the Gospel which 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 two thousand and twenty or so years ago is the very basis for the calendar whose page we turn tonight. 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. Born to a particular mother, as a member of a particular nation, in a particular place, at a particular time in human history, Jesus Christ 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.
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 tonight he invites us to receive this new year of our Lord 2021 – wherever we will be and wherever it will take us - with gratitude as his gift and to enter it not just with fear or anxiety, but with the hope that counts as one of God’s greatest Christmas gifts to us.
Happy New Year!