We stand in the new year with hope and expectation, and possibly some fear and unknowing. These are feelings that would have been familiar to Mary and Joseph as they gazed at the infant before them. Surely there was wonder and awe at the miracle of a newborn. There must, too, have been moments of incredulity as they saw shepherds, who claimed to have heard angels, come to visit. What must they have made of these three men who arrived bearing gifts of frankincense, gold and myrrh?
The period immediately following the birth of Jesus is often lost in the excitement of anticipating a new year. Many new mothers speak of the confusion of emotions following the birth of a newborn. Mary had to contend with a lot more. Jesus was born in the midst of political turmoil. King Herod, threatened by the prospect of a ‘messiah’, issued orders to kill ‘all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old’. And we read in the Gospel of Matthew of the plaintive cry that filled the land:
A voice is heard in Ramah,
weeping and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children
and refusing to be comforted,
because they are no more. (Mt 2:18)
The Feast of the Epiphany celebrates the visit of the wise men from the East. For many Christians, especially those of the Orthodox churches, this is the most significant day in the liturgical calendar. This is the day that marks the revelation and recognition of Jesus as good news for all nations. It echoes the Song of Simeon that proclaims:
For my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and the glory of your people Israel. (Lk 2:30–32)
So in these times of mixed emotions, when we stand at the gate of the new year, let us turn to the words of the British poet Minnie Louise Haskins (1875–1957):
And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year:
‘Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.’
And he replied:
‘Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God.
That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.’
So I went forth, and finding the Hand of God,
trod gladly into the night. And He led me towards the hills
and the breaking of day in the lone East.
So heart be still …
READ: Seeds and Fruit
WATCH: The Gate of the Year