Sometime in the past few days, I am sure you have all heard, a solid number of times, the phrase “happy new year!” I certainly have. With any new year, we often think about what has changed in the past 365 days, and what we want to change in the upcoming 12 months. In an effort to improve our lives, many adopt “new year’s resolutions”—going to the gym, eating healthy, doing more community service. Often, we fall short of our expectations. I know that I have not yet succeeded in accomplishing last year’s resolution of taking a voluntary trip to the weight room.
We cherish our New Year’s Resolutions because a new year offers a new element of control to our lives, the ability to change our lifestyle, habits, and practices for the coming year. But while the New Year offers a fresh start to life, it also presents significant uncertainty.
As humans, we are bound to despise that butterflies-in-the-stomach, nauseous feeling of uncertainty. When we lack control or information about the future, we grow nervous, irritable, and fearful. Think about your favorite TV show. For me, that’s House of Cards. Every season ends with Frank Underwood finishing off another political enemy, ascending to some higher office, or engaged mid-argument with his wife, Claire. Just when you want to know what happens next, the end credits start rolling and you have to wait another year. Through the use of cliffhangers, Hollywood capitalizes on the human instinct to avoid uncertainty.
In our own lives, unpredictability is also present, and occasionally seems to outweigh the joys we share. The New Year brings great opportunity for change, and such opportunity creates uncertainty. For the seniors who have been here since C Form, think about how much is different in what seems like such a short period of time. From the time we arrived here to the time we graduate, we will have seen three Presidents, two Popes, and ten different iPhone model releases. Ebola replaced the swine flu. ISIS replaced al Qaeda. Black Lives Matter replaced Occupy Wall Street and George R. R. Martin replaced J. K. Rowling. These events, occurring in less than a decade, have been completely unpredictable. And through the multiple fruitless attempts to predict a major outcome through polling, it is clear that we can NOT mathematically predict a future event.
We always seem to prioritize in our thoughts the uncertain and unpredictable elements of our lives. In just five days, every student in the room will toil through multiple two hour marathons of explaining how The Odyssey is a bildungsroman, elaborating on the importance of Grendel’s mom and Scyld Schefing in Beowulf, and why Hester Prynne’s relationship with Reverend Dimmesdale is an aspect of Romanticism, not realism. Those of us who have sat through exams before are dreading that all too familiar feeling of seeing the 15-page double-sided packet in a teacher’s hand.
But the great uncertainty “elephant” in the room rests in the senior class. Most of our class has not been accepted into a college, and many of us, just less than a week ago, clicked send on eight, nine, or even ten applications. We now will wait over three agonizing months to hear back, all the while working to maintain our grades. The lack of control that we have over such a major decision is excruciating for all eighty members of our grade.
These first few days of January represent a season of uncertainty in the Church Calendar as well. The season of Epiphany marks the time when the three “kings” or “magi” traveled far from the East, and disobeying King Herod’s warning, presented gifts to the King of Kings, or, as they saw it, a infant lying in a barn. In today’s hymn and reading, you heard of the long and perilous journey the three men endured to find the supposed Messiah. These “wise men” as we know them today, were not Jewish or Christian, rather, they were Zoroastrian priests, traveling from as far as Persia to a land they did not know to meet a child they had barely heard of. Their sense of uncertainty was certainly great, and it is no coincidence that this season of Epiphany falls at the start of our calendar year, when we face our own ambivalence about our true purpose, the world as we know it, and God’s presence in our midst. The story of wise men, shepherds, and other individuals traveling, under dangerous pretenses, to meet a baby with a death threat on his head, serves as a reminder to all of us that the new challenges, expectations, and doubts of the New Year are universally commonplace.
And that is my simple message today. In our daily lives, we are all struggling with an uncertainty. For students right now, it’s exams. For seniors, it’s colleges. For all of us, it’s this unpredictable and consequential year ahead. With a new president, administration, and congress, new classes and semester grades in two weeks, there are a lot of expectations, doubts, hopes, and fears circling our days here at St. Albans and in the world at large. There is much we do not know, many aspects of our lives are outside of our control. But it is important to realize and understand that if you do feel this way, you are not alone. All of us, in some way or another, deal with uncertainties everyday. Like the end of an episode of Game of Thrones, the outcome of something for all of us is completely out of reach, and as humans we cannot stand this. So enjoy the New Year. Whatever may be bothering you and causing doubts in your life is likely bothering the guy sitting next to you. While there is opportunity for great change in the coming year, there is also opportunity for great success. Embrace it. After all, that is what the willingness of the wise men to follow a star invites us to do because it reflected a sign of something mysterious yet affirming. So follow your light and be open to what your journey will include, especially the uncertainty.
Now go in peace to love and serve the Lord.