The Pagan Baptism of New Year’s
For many, there is a bigger to-do made of New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day than there is of Christmas. Imagine, in the heart of the biggest city, with the tallest towers, the final countdown begins, as the crowds cheer and await the stroke of midnight. “3…2…1…Merry Christmas!” the crowds proclaim. Then, just as suddenly, as the crowds fall quiet, the speakers begin to pour out upon the people the gentle melody, “Silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright round yon Virgin Mother and Child, Holy Infant so tender and mild.” What glory would be brought to Christ our God, and what graces would be poured out upon the city that night!
But, alas, again this year, we did not do that. Were there any who hoped for it? Any who expected it? Perhaps, instead, the blessed and hallowed bells of all the Churches could ring out in unison together at midnight, scattering the darkness of this world with the Christ Child whose birth brought the dawn of a new Light.
Instead of Christmas, these images stir memories of the celebration of the New Year, when partiers and revelers store up snacks and drinks and party hats, and stay up until the stroke of midnight to welcome…a new number on the calendar? What merits such an elaborate festival, with fireworks and cheering, vows and promises, hope and renewed determination? Is there some “magic” in that old party hat they found, perhaps left behind by Frosty himself? What excites them into such a frenzy this night? It can’t be purely symbolic, since surely there must be some real power in a festival for whose preparation they have gone to such great lengths?
In all seriousness, it is as if New Year’s is a pagan “baptism” of a sort: a rite of passage, with vows and promises, and a celebration of the beginning of a new life. But who gives this new life? Let’s look around. At the time of this celebration, the mystical Star of Bethlehem still hovers overhead. The Magi have made progress in their journey, and Herod has been stirred by anxiety. The shepherds have heard the Angels’ singing, and the Holy Family adore the newborn King. But, the pagans do not attend to the Star or to the voice of the Angels. Are they, like Herod, stirred with anxiety by the news the Magi bring? Or are they also attentive to the wonders of this season?
The coming of Christ disturbs the world, calling the good and shaking the evil; no one sits idle during these days. When the evil are shaken, they, like Herod, seek to extinguish the newborn Light. But are the New Year’s revelers of ill will? I would say not. Yet, are they being directed toward the Good, and toward the King that has come for them? As they bask in the lights and fireworks and decadent foods of their feast, and internally vow to be a better version of themselves in the coming year, is there anything spiritual happening? Does God reach out to them in these aspirations for something better? Surely, yes, for Our Lord does not let anything be wasted, but seeks to convert us even in the midst of our misguided deeds.
Yet, is there something happening on New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day which, by direct design, the Lord is using to reach out to all mankind, which these revelers might sense but still miss? Buried in the readings on the Solemnity of the Mother of God on January 1st is the memory of the Feast of the Circumcision of the Lord, which is the event memorialized on this Octave Day of Christmas. As the Star continues its mystical illumination of the world, the Holy Family take the Christ Child for His first ritual of the old Covenant, to which He humbly, and purposefully, submits. Is this the “act of God” which the revelers sense but miss?
On this first day of the year, Holy Mother Church, the faithful Bride of this Christ Child, calls all to celebrate the first instance of the shedding of His Most Precious Blood. Foreshadowing the Cross, and revealing the true meaning of the Incarnation, the sweet Babe cries out as He embraces, in merely His eighth day since birth, the pain that will define His life. He vows to the world, in Blood, that He has come to deliver us from bondage. Do the revelers hear His tiny cry, as they surround themselves with the music of the world, with the dancing of its celebrated figures, and the aroma of its dainties and spirits? Perhaps they do. Perhaps they feel the light of the Star, but hide from it within the big city world which has been offered to them. Perhaps they sense the shedding of His Blood calling out to the Father for mercy, and sending the demons into a madness.
But the darkness of the world is not immediately vanquished. When one spirit is cast out, it returns, with seven stronger than itself. Do the demons call out, to mock and drown out the cry of the Messiah, saying, “Pay no heed to these rumors you hear, to those tales of wonder. There is no need for a Messiah. We have given you what you want – rest, eat, drink, and be merry! Come, behold the feast we have prepared for you!” Torn in conscience, they embrace those lights prepared for them in the darkness of this world, and vow, at the end of their revelry, to be a better version of themselves.
Do they pass, on New Year’s Day, through the Blood of the Lamb, and seal their vow in Him, or do they take that great burden of redemption onto their own shoulders, and bear it for a little while, as hard and heavy as it truly is. Set down that load, my friends, and behold, above you, and falling upon you, the Blood of Christ. Do not be satisfied when the world says, “You want happiness and excitement? We’ve got you covered.” Instead, let yourselves be covered in the Precious Blood of the Christ Child. Do not return to your revelry, or to your efforts to form a better version of yourself. Die to this darkness, and follow that Star, that quiet Star, to the manger of the silent King. There, behold the wonders which the Incarnate Lord is unfolding.