A homily for the First Sunday after Christmas on New Year’s Eve
I don’t know if it’s just me, but at this time of year, with the endless lists of the past year being published, I find it very hard not to start measuring myself against the achievements of others. What may have been a healthy reflection on who I am, becomes an unhelpful realisation of all the things I have not achieved yet and probably will never do.
Of course, it is important to look back to the past and both celebrate the good things that have happened, as for example in the honours list, and to learn from the wrong we have done and continue to do, both individually and as a society, when we think for example of the Grenfell Tower fire and the continuing terrorist threat.
However, there is a certain risk that we get stuck in looking over our shoulder and get defined by the world and news around us; a risk that we start defining ourselves in terms of the things we have or haven’t done and the world around us.
The readings set for the first Sunday after Christmas give a radically different view of what it means to be a human person; a very different perspective on what makes us who we are. It is that we have our identity in God, our Maker, and that is the only thing that really matters. That needs to be our starting point and anchor, and from there we need to learn who we are and who we are meant to be.
The passage from Paul’s letter to the Galatians is short, but, realising who he is and where he has come from, it is an incredibly moving few lines. Paul, Saul before his conversion, was a well-educated man from Jewish descent. He found his identity through his lineage and his position in society that gave him. No wonder he saw Jesus as a threat: not only to his religious beliefs, but also to who he was as a person as a whole.
In this passage, Paul writes to the Galatians how no longer our identity is given by any of this, but by our adoption as children of God. We stop being slaves, and start becoming children and so also heirs through God. Importantly, it is not something we have achieved, but, if you like, something God has done for us.
However, although it is a free gift, it does come with a responsibility: we are no longer slaves, but children, heirs, so in a sense we have a responsibility towards the future. This, of course, does not mean forgetting the past, but the only way we can do justice to our responsibility towards the future is by learning from the past through forgiveness and reconciliation. A new beginning does not mean forgetting what has gone before, but giving it its proper place. In Paul’s words, God sent his Son to ‘redeem those who were under the law’. A new beginning takes account of the past.
These themes also underpin the passage from Luke’s Gospel, as Jesus is circumcised and named in the Temple. Again, the traditions, the past are honoured appropriately. I’d like to finish with one final thought. That is, this new beginning we cannot keep to ourselves. Just as Mary shared the good news with the shepherds, so also we have to let others share in our new beginnings. Believing that we can forgive, so we can be forgiven, and believing that we can be forgiven, so can others too.
And with that, I wish you God’s blessing on all that the new year will bring.