The Rev. Teri Daily
We celebrate Epiphany on January 6th; it’s the last day of the Christmas season, a season spent celebrating the gift of God’s love made known to us in Jesus of Nazareth. It’s also a day when we remember travelers from the East bringing gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh to the baby Jesus. It is good and right to remember these two events simultaneously. After all, the proper response to the gifts God has given us is to give gifts in return.
But Epiphany doesn’t have a monopoly on gift-exchange; at its heart, New Year’s Day is a celebration of gift-giving as well. First, New Year’s celebrates the gift of time, of another trip around the sun. On this day, we look back at the previous year, knowing that time is the great equalizer. See, we all receive the same amount of time in a given year–for 2015, that is 365 days, or 8,706 hours, or 525,600 minutes. How did we use it? Did we spend time with people we love? Did we contribute to the community in which we live? Did we laugh and sing and dance? Did we learn a new skill or hone an existing one? Did we risk letting ourselves be known?
Second, New Year’s Day whets our appetite for the gift of new possibilities. For not only do we look over our shoulder at the year that is ending, but we also look toward the year ahead, toward the days that seem to offer themselves as a blank slate on which our lives will be painted. Some of the canvas will be covered with designs and colors we bring with us into new year, but new hues and shapes also appear in due time. In the end, the old sayings “history merely repeats itself” and “there is nothing new under the sun” always reveal themselves as the lies that they are; we find ourselves surprised by new events, by twists and turns we didn’t expect, and by the people around us. This newness is a gift as well.
How will we respond to these gifts of time and new opportunities? Well, the proper response to a gift is to give a gift in return. According to Anglican theologian John Mikbank, such gift-exchange is marked by asymmetry and delay. We don’t return the exact same gift that we receive; instead, we reciprocate by giving something different, something appropriate to the time and occasion. It’s an exchange that plays out over time, like a dialogue. In some real sense, all ongoing relationships are comprised of this continuous process of giving and receiving.
So, what if we saw this new year as the ongoing gift-exchange that it is, as a giving and receiving between God and us that is grounded in love? What if we were to wait for each of the 366 days of 2016 with anticipation, as we would wait for a gift? There is so much in our world that tells us change is not possible, not the least of which is our own disappointments, wounds, and failures. But then a new year or a new day dawns, and for the thousandth time we are given a second chance.
Each day we can receive what that day brings, both the expected and the unexpected. We can take it and, using our own creativity, add to it and shape it in ways appropriate to our own circumstances and to the world around us. Hopefully, we shape it in ways that bring mercy, healing, and hope to a hurting world. This, in turn, is our gift to God–our primary form of praise and thanksgiving. I imagine God waits with divine excitement to see what we do.
In the end, maybe Epiphany and New Year’s Day are more alike than we think–like all our days, they are both about the giving and receiving of gifts. The question that underlies all our New Year’s resolutions and plans is this: how will we celebrate the gifts of time and new opportunities that greet us in the coming year? How will we paint the canvas we’ve been given?