For the past three Sundays, we have spent time contemplating how God had chosen to break into the cycle of human history and begin something new. The birth of Jesus began a new era in history. Even the way we identify time changed when he was born. Formerly we noted the years as B.C. (before Christ). Now we name the years as A.D. (Anno Domini) which is Latin for “Year of the Lord.” We call the Hebrew Scriptures the Old Testament and the Christian Scriptures the New Testament.
Something new usually prompts us to think of change. Even non-Christians and atheists consider making New Year’s resolutions, usually attempts to change our behavior. Did you know that January 17 (which we just passed on Friday) is now known as Resolution D Day? Why? Apparently “D” stands for downfall, and by January 17, most have failed in their resolutions. Yes, change is difficult. The bigger the change, the more difficult it will be. Starting a new job or moving to a new home are stressful changes in our lives.
Isaiah begins our thoughts on newness today by telling Israel that God is going to call her by a new name as a way of announcing her vindication. That new name indicates a new status; no longer will the children of Israel be the slaves of the Assyrians in Babylon. He uses metaphorical language to compare this new status to a marriage and declares that God will delight in her as a bridegroom delights in his bride. I might add that this is striking inasmuch as psychologists usually include getting married as one of the most stressful changes one can encounter.
The psalm that we use to respond to Isaiah bids us to sing a new song of praise. The song isn’t really new; the situation in which we sing the song is new as God has created a new people out of men and women who were forsaken, created a new land out of desolation.
St. Paul speaks of a new community which is filled with the Holy Spirit. That Holy Spirit imparts new gifts and new forms of service as well as new ways to work within the community. Life in this new community with its new gifts means change in the way we relate to God and to one another.
The Gospel today tells us a story about a new chapter in the life of Jesus. Taken from the second chapter of St. John’s Gospel, we hear the familiar story of Jesus changing water into wine – the inaugural event in the ministerial life of Jesus. The water in question in this story is in six stone jars and is supposed to be used for Jewish ceremonial washings. By changing the water into wine, Jesus is ushering in a new ritual, replacing the Jewish rituals with something new. We are told that it is through this sign that Jesus’ disciples began to believe in him.
I suspect that most of us would not classify our experience of Sunday worship as something new. By the same token, most of us probably don’t think of our relationship with God as something new. Yet, the Scriptures today seem to be pointing us in that direction. When we speak of God’s new creation, it is important that we don’t think of this as a past event. The mystery of the Incarnation is not an historical event. It keeps on happening every day. St. Paul teaches us that through his beautiful treatises on the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Each time that we use our particular gift, whatever that gift may be, we do so as part of the Body of Christ. Each time our gift works to the benefit of the community and the glory of God, we make Jesus present in our midst. Sadly, we tend to think of Jesus as some historical event that happened more than two thousand years ago. By our changed lives, we are charged with making the mystery of the Incarnation an event that continually manifests itself in our relationships with one another and with God.
The Scriptures today ask us to look deeply our minds and hearts to see just how open we are to the demands of the new era that was ushered in through the birth of Jesus. Like any resolutions we may make at the New Year, we are called upon to change.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator