One week into the new year means that millions of New Year's Resolutions have been made and millions and New Year's Resolutions have been abandoned. That this custom endures speaks to our longing for change that improves our lives, our families, and our friendships,
The first Sunday after Epiphany points to this longing for change as lifts up for us the story of the baptism of Jesus. Baptism is an outward and visible sign of God's grace at work in our lives. Our appropriate response is repentance.
Repentance shares one things in common with New Year's Resolutions. Both are about change. But that is where the similarities end. What is the difference between repentance and a New Year's Resolution?
First, a New Year's Resolution is personal and individual. It is made in response to one's own sense of disappoint and desire for change.
The call to repentance is a call for change of the whole world. By my personal repentance I am participating in a process that is much, much bigger than myself.
Second, a New Year's Resolution is generally made in response to a human standard. "I resolve to get the gym," is a response to a body-image set by society. "I resolve to perform better at work," is a response to a drive for success in a culture that defines personal worth in monetary terms. "I resolve to drink less and to stop smoking," is a response to fears related to one's personal health but disconnected from how society tends to reinforce poor health habits.
The call to repentance is made in response to the hope for the Kingdom of God. It acknowledge that God is at work in not only my own personal experience, but that of my family, neighbors, and society as well. In repentance, change does not follow my agenda. It seeks to be open to what God is doing in the world.
Third, a New Years's Resolution is generally motivated by fear, disappointment, or regret. I resolve to lose weight because I fear I am getting "too fat." I resolve to be more successful because I fear I am being left behind professionally. Behind every resolution is a dark force that makes you feel at risk.
The call to repentance is motivated by affirmation and acceptance. When Jesus is baptized, he hears a the voice from heaven say, "You are my well beloved son, with you I am well pleased." Every baptism, every act of repentance is motivated by this divine voice that affirms and accepts us for who we are and for who we are becoming in the power of God's grace.
A New Year's Resolution is all about what I resolve to do for myself. The call to repentance is my participation in what God is already doing in and through me as I common with others in the Kingdom of God with the assurance that God is doing for me, and in me, and through me, greater things than I can possibly imagine.
As this new year begins, please know that you are God's well-beloved child. With you, God is well pleased.