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A Late Resolution for the New Year: See God

Posted on Sunday, January 8, 2023
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by David P. Deavel
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10 Comments

AMAC Exclusive – By David P. Deavel

By the time this article appears, many readers will have already given up on their New Year resolutions. One internet prankster proposed that an ideal business would be called “Resolutions.” It would operate as a gym from January 1-7. . . and then convert to a wine bar. The spirit may be willing, but like the flesh, it’s often very weak. And yet the Christian year presents an opportunity in early January to think about what the best resolution might be.

In most Christian traditions, Christmas is a twelve-day feast that is capped off by the feast of Epiphany or, as it is called in some eastern Christian traditions, Theophany. It is celebrated on January 6, though many Christian groups celebrate it on the Sunday following (today). Eastern Christians still using the Julian Calendar will celebrate it on January 19.

Epiphany, from the Greek, means “manifestation” or “appearance,” while Theophany means a “divine appearance” (from theos, God). While most western Catholics and Protestants associate this day with the birth of Christ and the visit of the Wise Men or Magi, as depicted in Matthew 2, the feast as it began in the Christian east often had to do with Christ’s baptism by John the Baptist or even his miraculous turning of water into wine. That “very different manifestations of Christ’s glory and Divinity were celebrated in this feast” was due, said Cyril Martindale, “no doubt to the vagueness of the name Epiphany. . . .”

That the day has reference to so many different biblical events means that people from different parts of the world will have different customs. Those that focus on Christ’s Baptism, such as Greek Orthodox Christians, traditionally have priests throw crosses into bodies of water in order to sanctify them—just as Christ himself sanctified the water when he himself was baptized by John, as some theologians say. Jordanian Christians hold Masses and other services on the banks of the Jordan River.

Those that focus on the Magi, known by tradition as the Three Kings, often give gifts on this day. In many countries such as Mexico, it is the Three Kings rather than St. Nicholas or Santa who give gifts. In Italy the Befana, a kind of Santa Claus-like old woman who rides a broom and gives children candy or coal depending on how good they have been, arrives on the eve of Epiphany. Her very name is a kind of corruption of the feast’s name. 

The other custom common to those who focus on the Magi’s visit is the blessing of houses. There are a variety of customary prayer services for such blessings that can be easily found. Most all of them include Scripture readings, prayers for the new year, ceremonial sprinkling of holy water through the house, and the use of chalk above the main entrance to the house. There the first two numbers of the new year are followed by C + M + B and followed by the last two numbers of the year. Thus: 20 + C + M + B + 23.  The C, M, and B stand for the names traditionally ascribed to those Magi: Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar. They also stand for a Latin blessing: Christus Mansionem Benedicat, or “Christ Bless this House.”

What are all these blessings—whether of water or houses—meant for? They are meant to remind us as well as enable us to see that the success of the new year is not simply dependent on all our efforts. We require blessing by God for success. “Unless the Lord builds the house,” we read in Psalm 127:1, “the laborers build in vain.” Given the difficulties of life, it might be fair to say that unless the Lord keeps the house up, those living in it act in vain. Having the chalked legend of the Magi visible in our homes reminds us that, like that hardy band, our search for the King might take us to surprising places in our own lives. Like them, we might have to alter our plans in unexpected ways, as they did when they were warned in a dream not to visit King Herod on their way home. God may ask us to take another route.

The important thing in all of this is to have the spiritual eyesight to make every day a day of epiphany, to see God present in all of life. In his famous poem “As Kingfishers Catch Fire,” the priest and poet Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote that “Christ plays in ten thousand places.” So he does, blessing our houses and appearing to us in his sometimes strange but always providential care, always in charge even when things seem to be out of control in various ways. So he does, appearing to us in the people around us: our family, our friends, those who annoy us and make us uncomfortable—those poor whom Mother Teresa called “Jesus in his most distressing disguise.”

This goal of opening our eyes to see God is really the best kind of resolution we can have. And when we do, just as with the business in the joke, all the hard work we put in at the beginning will give way to the wine of gladness and celebration. 

David P. Deavel is an Associate Professor of Theology at the University of St. Thomas in Houston, Texas, and a Senior Contributor at The Imaginative Conservative.

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Richard
Richard
1 year ago

More difficult than other years on New Years resolutions with a president that only satan would voted into Washington DC. My resolution vote against Biden as soon as possible.

Eric
Eric
1 year ago

We as a nation should turn from our wicked ways and turn back to God. Only God can save this nation, not politicians for they are lovers of themselves!! But most importantly you as an individual should turn back to God start a relationship in Jesus Christ as your savior!! Mystery Babylon has fallen, fallen, come out of her!! Jesus is coming sooner then you think!!

David Millikan
David Millikan
1 year ago

Educational and inspirational article.

Letta
Letta
1 year ago

What an amazing article. I’m an Orthodox Christian and it brought me great joy that you shared the beauty of the Christmas season with your members.
We need to be reminded to open our eyes to God knowing He is in charge. This is the best resolution we can keep.
Thank you, and I’m so proud to be an AMAC member.

Carol
Carol
1 year ago

Love this article! All new years begin with Christ and all end of years end with Christ! He came to save all! As an Orthodox Christian, it’s nice to see Theophany talked about since the blessings of the water is such a beautiful service where God revealed the Trinity to humanity while sanctifying the waters that become our baptisms in Christ! Every day must start and end with Him who created all for all!

Heila Gibb
Heila Gibb
1 year ago

Thank you????
How beautifully presented.

Victor Ulloa Jr
Victor Ulloa Jr
1 year ago

Yes, we must follow the King and divert from worldly distractions. Let God build our house with His presents so that we can overcome barriers of life.

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