New year is traditionally a time when people make resolutions. Apparently within six months of making new year’s resolutions, most people have completely abandoned them!
New year, specifically January 6th, is also epiphany in the church calendar.
Epiphany isn’t a feast that receives much attention outside of the more traditional churches. It’s a feast that celebrates a number of the events of Jesus’ earliest years, including and, perhaps most prominently, the visit of the Magi from the east. The word epiphany means shining forth, the shining forth of Jesus.
This particular aspect of the Christmas story is covered in Matthew’s gospel alone (Matthew 2.1-12). The Magi follow a star, stop off at Herod’s palace to see if the new King is there, and then, with Herod’s apparent encouragement, continue their journey and end up in Bethlehem. Here they meet Jesus and their lives are changed. They give their gifts and their worship and then, warned in a dream, return home by another route.
An article about new year’s resolutions a few years ago in Psychology Today, commented that the problem we have with new year’s resolutions is that we’re after change and we don’t realise that we have a lot of baggage we need to ditch if we are going to achieve that change. Believe it or not, one of the things that the author said was that, if we are to be successful in making and achieving our resolutions, we need an epiphany that brings us to a conviction that we can’t continue down the same old paths any longer.
Whatever the author meant by those words and whatever his spiritual background, true change only comes when we have an encounter with God, when we have a Magi-like kind of epiphany.
Their encounter with Jesus redefined their understanding of God: He was not to be found in the palace of the power-crazed Herod, but lived with humble people in humble surroundings.
Sometimes our greatest need is to have our vision and understanding of God altered. People have often been sold a lie as to who God really is and what He is like.
The Magi’s encounter with Jesus brought new direction into their lives. They had come a long way from the east following a star. They were now warned in a dream to take a different route home.
Sometimes we need redirection or new direction. Perhaps it’s because the old paths are no longer relevant. Perhaps it is to avert danger that we can’t presently see. It might just be that we prepare ourselves to take unfamiliar paths because that is the way God is calling us.
Most importantly of all, however, they were overwhelmed in the presence of the Christ child and brought their gifts and their worship.
A fresh appreciation of Jesus, a new encounter with Him is beyond question the greatest new year blessing we could have.
So as we begin a new year, don’t let me stop you making your resolutions: they have their place. However, let me encourage you to seek a fresh revelation of Jesus with the deep and lasting change that such an encounter brings.
Happy (belated) epiphany.