The Rev. Alan Akridge is still in celebration mode. Several days after Christmas, the pastor of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Brunswick continues to officially mark the birth of Jesus. For Episcopalians, Catholics and other denominations, that will continue until Epiphany, the 12 day period following Christmas.
Several traditions hold this to be the period when the Magi (or the three kings) visited the baby Jesus, revealing to all that he was God in human form. In some congregations, Epiphany is also referred to as “Jesus’ baptism,” an event which took place 30 years later, when Christ was baptized by John in the River Jordan.
Falling on Jan. 6, Epiphany is a feast day in many denominations and marks the end of the Christmas season. But there is one important day that falls within that time span — New Year.
While not a religious holiday per se, it is a time where many in faith communities stop to reflect, while setting down their intentions for the coming year.
For Akridge and his congregation, they have been focusing on the concept of Christ’s birth and birthdays, in general, as a way of refocusing for the road ahead.
“We celebrate the birthdays of those we love. And even when they’ve left this earth, we still mark their birthdays in special ways. We do this because their lives so positively impacted our own,” he said.
“And we see ourselves as honoring them by reflecting them to those around us. For those who’ve lost a dad or mom or spouse, or tragically a child, we mark their birthdays saying things like, ‘Dad would have been 80 this year’ and then reflection produces a kind of commitment for living and saying and being the kinds of people they helped us to become.”
For Christians, Jesus would have marked his 2018th birthday this year. And Akridge hopes that, as the calendar shifts to 2019, Christ’s impact will be felt in the lives of those who worship him and their actions will reflect that influence.
“A third of all humanity this year said, in effect, Jesus would have been 2018 years old this year. How are we to recall the impact He’s had on your lives and act, speak, and form our lives in response for 2019?,” Akridge said.
Of course, the concept of starting fresh extends to all and faith-based communities. All find their way of approaching the concept of rebirth and starting anew.
For the Rev. Jane Page, it is an important step, regardless of one’s spiritual traditions. The pastor of the Unitarian Universalists of Coastal Georgia notes that is particularly important considering the strife and tension of 2018.
“I think that there has been so much anger and bitterness and frustration in the world … in our faith communities and in our nation that new year may be a good time for us to have what many faiths call ‘a day of atonement,’” she said.
Page points to Judaism’s Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (the Jewish new year and day of atonement respectively) as an example. Held in the fall, these important events fall 10 days apart and offer a new beginning.
“‘Atonement’ is really a play on words when translated from Hebrew to Greek to English and it means, ‘at one-ment.’ So this means it’s a time for us to be ‘at one’ with the divine goodness and ‘at one’ with one another,” Page said.
Her congregation will embrace that concept by reciting, “A Litany of Atonement” by Robert Eller-Isaacs, a Unitarian Universalists minister. The refrain of the text holds the key to Page’s view on the new year.
“The congregation repeats, ‘we forgive ourselves and each other; we begin again in love,’ which I think is so important,” she said. “I think we are losing sight of our unity fueled by the illusion of separateness.”
That is why Page is encouraging all, regardless of belief system, to find a way to move forward in the new year with a sense of forgiveness and love to create positive change.
“The new year is really just another day but there it is a time to reflect on what we can do better. You can take time to do a special ritual or set down things that you want to change,” she said.
“We can’t change history but we can change the future. We can ask ourselves, ‘how can I do better? How can I begin again in love?’”