“Rebirth to a New Life”
A Homily for New Year’s Day
By Archbishop Cyril Salim Bustros
Homily for New Year’s Day
January 1, 2006
Happy New Year! With this wish, we greet one another on this first day of the year. But what does this wish mean? Is happiness something we can really obtain in this world? And what is happiness for us Christians? A being is happy when he realizes what he has been created for. We can say that birds are happy to fly in the air and proclaim their happiness by chirping. Fish are happy when thy swim in the sea. Human beings reach happiness when they realize the fullness of their being. As Christians we believe that men and woman are created in the image and likeness of God. The description of their status in paradise before the first sin of Eve and Adam is a description of real happiness with God. When they refused God and were separated from Him, it was the end of their happiness. The image of this end of happiness is expressed in the Book of Genesis when it says that they were expelled from paradise, expelled from the Kingdom of God. Jesus came to restore in us this image of God to its full beauty, and to reopen to us the Kingdom of God, and thus to give us happiness.
But to enter the Kingdom of God, we have to be born again, as Jesus said to Nicodemus: “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the Kingdom of God without being born again”. To be born again means also “to be born from above”, that is to be born of the Holy Spirit. And Jesus repeats the point “very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3: 3-6).
The same idea is expressed by St. Paul through the theme of the “new creation”: This new creation happens when one lives “in Christ”. Paul uses the expression “in Christ” 165 times in his letters. He says in 2 Corinthians: “If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation. Everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new” (2 Cor. 5:17). How does one become “in Christ”? For Paul, by dying to our old life, to life “in Adam”, and being reborn in Christ. The way to life in Christ is by dying and rising with Christ. The path is death and resurrection, death and rebirth.
Why do we need to be born again? I read a very evocative story about a three-year-old girl. She was the firstborn and only child in her family, but now her mother was pregnant again, and the little girl was very excited about having a new brother or sister. Within a few hours of the parents bringing a new baby boy home from the hospital, the girl made a request: she wanted to be alone with her new brother in his room with the door shut. Her insistence about being alone with the baby the door shut made her parents a bit uneasy, but then they remembered that they had installed an intercom system in anticipation of the baby’s arrival, so they realized they could let their daughter do this, and if they heard the slightest indication that anything strange was happening, they could be in the baby’s room in an instant.
So they let the little girl go into the baby’s room, and raced to the intercom listening station. They heard their daughter’s footsteps moving across the baby’s room, imagined her standing over the baby’s crib, and then they heard her saying to he three-day-old brother: “Tell me about God – I’ve almost forgotten” (Marcus J. Borg, The Heart of Christianity, 2003, p 113-114).
The story is both haunting and evocative, for it suggests that we come from God and that when we are very young, we still remember this, still know this. But the process of growing up, of learning about this world, is a process of increasingly forgetting the one from whom we came and in whom we live… Our identity and way of being are more and more shaped by this “world” of sin, of selfishness, of self-centeredness, and at the same time of estrangement and exile from God. That is why we need to be born again from above, from the Spirit of God.
“The biblical picture of the human condition is bleak. Separated from God, and self-concerned, the self becomes blind, self-preoccupied, prideful; worry-filled, grasping, miserable; insensitive, angry, violent. In the dark, we are blind and don’t see. We live in bondage in Egypt, in exile in Babylon, and sometimes we become Egypt and Babylon. We can be both victim and oppressor. Especially as groups, we can be brutal and oppressive. There seems no evil of which we are collectively incapable… We are created in the image of God, but we live our lives outside of paradise… in a world of estrangement and self-preoccupation… Thus we need to be born again. It is the road of return from our exile, the way to recover our true self, the path to beginning to live our lives from the inside out rather from the outside in, the exodus form our individual and collective selfishness. To be born again involves dying to the false self, to that identity, to that way of being, and to be born again into an identity centered in the Spirit, in Christ, in God. It is the process of internal redefinition of the self whereby a real person is born within us” (Ibid. 117).
Our new life is a life of reconnection with God. “Paul speaks of the new life in Christ in the most extraordinary terms. It is marked by freedom, joy, peace, and love, four of his favorite words: freedom from the voices of all the would-be lords of our lives; the joy of the exuberant life; the peace of reconnection to what is the peace that passes all understanding; and love – the love of God for us and the love of God in us” (Ibid. 121).
With this rebirth to a new life we can say to one another: “Happy New Year!”