Does anyone still make new years resolutions? Our weary cynicism has taught us that we will not fulfill our own goals; politicians will say that election promises were only possibilities; predictions of the end of the world have become the fare of comedy routines.
And yet, in the scripture readings for the week after Christmas, we hear the voice of the prophet in Isaiah looking to the end of exile and the restoration of Israel.
10I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my whole being shall exult in my God; for God has clothed me with the garments of salvation, and covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. 11For as the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations.
For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest, until her vindication shines out like the dawn, and her salvation like a burning torch. 2The nations shall see your vindication, and all the kings your glory; and you shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the Lord will give. 3You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God. (Isaiah 61:10-62:3)
It is a wonderful reading for a time of joy, but we know how that prophecy continues to unfold. There have been brief respites, but Jerusalem is more frequently the scene of violence than the scene of beauty and peace.
In the case of the beautiful Nunc Dimittis in Luke 2:28-35, we have a lightly more realistic prophecy.
Simeon took the infant in his arms and praised God, saying, 29“Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; 30for my eyes have seen your salvation, 31which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, 32a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” 33And Jesus’ father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. 34Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed 35so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
We tend to read this passage hearing only about the light and the glory. I think this is an amazing text when sung at the funeral of a faithful person who has held the light of Christ before them to guide their feet. For the faithful, the path is rarely smooth. It is composed of challenges to the heart and demands on the intellect. Followers of Jesus must let our hearts be pierced, our comfortable thoughts shredded; we must be brave enough to let doubt open new awareness; we must be willing to abandon the certain safety of the past for the upsets of the adventure of spiritual growth.
There is an old fashioned children’s hymn called “Jesus Bids us Shine” The refrain says, “So we must shine; you in your small corner and I in mine.” As a child, I thought it was a somewhat forlorn and sad hymn. Recently, I saw on some social medium, that if you gather enough the candles and you house them in clay pots, you can build a fairly effective heat source for a room. I though about this hymn and about how many followers of Christ are in the word. But, how would we know what colour candles to light?
I think we could look to Jesus instructions: Love God, love each other. Be forgiving and humble. Be generous. Clothe the naked, feed the hungry, comfort the prisoner. There is nothing in these instructions about what to believe, only about how to act and thereby transformed by our actions.
Instead of new year’s resolutions, we could return to our baptism promises for guidance. I warn you now, we will not succeed, but maybe the goal is not accomplishment, but the humility of learning, of service, however incomplete and inadequate. If we promise to open our eyes, to learn from our neighbours, to dare to be generous and joyful, maybe we will see the light. Even as our hearts are breaking, maybe we will feel the child who unites earth and heaven, moving under our skin, teaching us that we too are worthy and holy and one of his friends on a mission to fulfill ancient promises of peace and healing for all.