Epiphany – January 3rd 2021
New Year’s Resolutions…
I wonder how many of us actually managed to keep up a 2020 New Year’s resolution? Frankly I would be quite amazed if anyone did, unless your resolution was something along the lines of ‘stay in the house more’. Surely 2020 was the year that turned out as nobody expected, and therefore made short thrift of all of our plans and good intentions. So, after all that we have experienced and journeyed through over the last year, I wonder what a New Year’s resolution for 2021 might look like?
A few days ago a national Newspaper gave a list of people’s alternative New Year’s Resolutions for 2021…
The first was one, for me, very ‘2020’ – I’m sure you’ll see what I mean, it was: ‘My New Year’s resolution is to get dressed more’.
Another one was clearly the result of accumulated frustrations during the pandemic:
‘My New Year’s resolution is to yell at people who don’t wear their face mask properly’
Someone else said that their New Year’s Resolution was simply to stop thinking! Again, a sign of the year we’ve all had, I think.
One rather confident young lady said she was not going to make any New Year’s resolutions as she was already perfect – but that she was going to recommend to other people that they resolve to be nicer to her.
The Comedian and Presenter Richard Osman related that his 2020 resolutions were about seeing the world, meeting new people and expanding his horizons, whereas his 2021 resolution was simply to make it as far as Robert Dyas.
(And at this point I have to point out that I am clearly not as middle-class as I think I am, because I had no idea that Robert Dyas is a slightly posh homeware and furniture shop!)
Why do we make resolutions?
Why do we make New Year’s resolutions anyway? Perhaps it is simply because we feel the need to be in control. Perhaps because we feel a deep need to be in control of ourselves, even if we cannot control the world around us. Perhaps we so often make the same resolutions (for example to lose weight, get fit or to eat better) because we also feel, instinctively, that we are not – somehow – as we should be… That we want more and better for ourselves. That we want to renew ourselves. To start afresh. That’s a thought I’ll return to later.
But of course, if 2020 taught us one thing, it is that we cannot control much. Control, someone famously once said ‘is an illusion’. We cannot presume to shape our lives as we would like, to choose and to direct and to grow and to improve and to steadily increase in wealth and happiness and contentment. Sometimes life – or a virus – takes over, and all of our well-intentioned plans go up in smoke.
So what can we say about 2021? What resolutions could we presume to make? What, if anything, have we learned about ourselves in 2020 that might shape our thinking and planning for the coming year.
Well, if you are one of the many millions of people who have really struggled this year, or one of the huge number of people who have lost a friend of family member, then you might be feeling like the poor soul who resolved simply not to think this year. In other words, you might feel like giving up on the whole idea of self-improvement, and instead to deal with the much more necessary and immediate tasks of surviving, of grieving, or of simply making it through another day.
If this is you, or if you feel that there is simply no way that you can look forward with optimism at the start of this new year, then I have a suggestion for you. I have a suggestion of a New Year’s resolution that you could make that might just make all the difference.
Or perhaps you are not quite in that place. Perhaps you simply feel discouraged and downhearted because you find that you are one of those people who resolve again and again to try and live better or healthier, or whatever, but never actually succeed. If that is the case, then I also have a suggestion for you too.
Or maybe you feel that you are beyond all of this – that you have journeyed far enough in life that you feel that it is other people who should be making changes, rather than yourself. If that is you then I have a suggestion for you too.
Here’s a Resolution for 2021
And of course, you will not be surprised to hear, it is actually the same suggestion.
My suggestion is this. This year, why not resolve to imitate the Magi, and Worship Jesus more.
Today is, of course, Epiphany. Today we remember the Magi; those ‘Three Kings’ from a far off land who came to worship Jesus. Obviously I’m sure you know that they were probably not Kings, but certainly high status individuals; the word Magi is difficult to translate but apparently means ‘astrologers’ or ‘astronomers’ or something like that. Also we cannot say from the Gospels how many there were. Matthew simply records that ‘Magi from the East’ came to visit and that they brought 3 different gifts… But anyway, today we remember the visit of the Magi from the East. A story told by Matthew in his Gospel that shows that the nations themselves will come to bow to Jesus.
For indeed, the Magi were looking for a King! They had seen ‘his star rising’ and had journeyed far to find him, following that star before them, and had come to worship him. This is a story that I’m sure will be familiar to most of us. A story familiar from school days and even before! But today I want to share some simple thoughts about this extraordinary act of worship, and what it might say to us at the start of a new year.
Here are my thoughts:
The Magi followed the star to Jesus. The came to him and bowed down. The laid their riches before him. They left by a different way, and with, I would suggest, a new understanding of power and Kingship. In that Act of Worship they were changed.
And as we worship Jesus we too are changed, as they were. In worshipping Jesus we are changed! We are born anew! We are renewed! We are given a fresh start. It is the experience of Christians for 2000 years that in coming to, and in worshipping Jesus, we find a love and a hope that nothing else in the world can compare to. We find renewal for our hearts and minds. We find rest. We find a fresh start.
When we worship Jesus we find our perspective shifts from our own fears and burdens to the power and love of God. When we worship Jesus we find ourselves encouraged to believe that we are not on our own, that God is with us. When we worship Jesus we find ourselves known, held, and loved by the God who made us and who called us into being. We find everything that people are seeking for when they make those same stale New Year’s resolutions, and so much more.
But here’s the catch. Here’s why we actually have to resolve to do something about this. You see, it is one thing to know about Jesus – to ‘see his star in the East’ as it were. As the Magi of course did.
It’s quite another thing altogether to journey towards him. They had to decide to do that.
And It’s quite another thing again to bow down and worship him.
I would say it’s even another step from there to kneel down and give him our riches.
But like the Magi, if we do that, this year, we will find that we are changed. Whatever 2021 has in store for us, for good or bad, we can resolve to come to Jesus and worship. We can resolve to give up that sense, or illusion, of control, and to trust in God. To follow Jesus and the Magi followed the star, and to worship Him. And we will find that in that place of worship we have nothing to fear from 2021, and that we will be renewed.
So let us make that our shared resolution this year. To journey towards Jesus, and to worship him.
In which case, let me ask you this question: How will you worship Jesus more this year?
Perhaps you could find time to listen to some Christian music – to sing a song of praise. Perhaps you could choose to make time to be quiet, to sit and listen, to contemplate, to meditate. To read the bible. Perhaps you can choose to go for more walks. To go somewhere special to you, and pray. Maybe even to go on a retreat, or to a conference. To hear a cathedral choir. Or maybe simply to find 5 minutes each morning or evening to speak some simple words of praise.
This is something that I will want to explore more together this year. I to find more reasons, more ways, this year, for us to experience the touch of God in our lives, and Worship is such an important way of doing this.
So let us imitate the Magi this year, and worship Jesus!
Here are some prayers, for Epiphany…
To the bidding ‘Lord of Glory’, please respond ‘hear our prayer’.
Lord of glory,
hear our prayer.
Let us worship the Saviour with joy
and make our prayer to our heavenly Father.
The magi came from the east to worship your Son:
Father, grant to Christians everywhere
the spirit of adoration …
Lord of glory,
hear our prayer.
The infant Christ received gifts of gold, incense and myrrh:
Father, accept the offering of our hearts and minds
[at the beginning of this year] …
Lord of glory,
hear our prayer.