Every New Year, we all have the chance to make resolutions, to resolve to change our lives for the better. We make lists of things we want to do differently in our life, and all too often, by the end of January most of those resolutions are out the window. If you’ve ever belonged to a gym, you dread the week of January 1st when all of the new people show up who have resolved to get into shape. Most of the time they don’t know how to use the machines, don’t know that they are supposed to clean them afterwards, and don’t remember to turn their cell phones off. But you know not to fret; most of them will not be back by the end of the month.
I was one of those January gym-joiners seven years ago, only I stuck with it. I hired a personal trainer with help from a denominational “clergy self-care” grant I received. I told myself I’d go three days a week—I actually went six days a week. It helped that I was getting married that May and had a dress I needed to fit into, but I stuck with it. After my wedding, I still came five days a week. I was a regular gym goer until I became pregnant. Since that time, it’s been hard, but I’ve been working my way back. I don’t go to a gym anymore but I do run and walk and take my son to the park and get in as much exercise as I can.
The Revised Common Lectionary sets us up for our own sort of resolutions in our faith life. Though the Christian calendar begins in Advent, after Epiphany on January 6th we have an opportunity to join in with the rest of the world. The first Sunday after the Epiphany marks the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist. We remember John the Baptist came preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Repent means to turn back, to completely turn away from what one has been doing. It is more than a resolution, an idea that you’re going to change your life—it is the actual change itself. To repent is to change. Baptism is the symbol of that act of repentance—that one has changed. But it’s also a symbol of what has happened—God has also acted upon you by being in relationship with you—and you are changed forever.
So now the parties are over, the resolutions have been made and the local gym is packed with people determined that this is the year they finally make the changes necessary, but we all know not everyone will succeed with their resolutions. While making the resolution to become healthier may not seem to be equal to an act of repentance, there are ways of making such resolutions acts of repentance. Repent from selfish behavior and poor eating habits, spend more time with your family and friends and care for your body, the temple of the Holy Spirit. That’s just one example of turning a resolution into an act of repentance.
Maybe you just want to resolve to spend more time doing things you enjoy. But these too can become acts of repentance, when we remember the God-given talents we have neglected, when we remember the joy that comes from God when we are spending more time doing the things we were created to do. A personal example: I resolve to write more in the coming year. My act of repentance is that I have felt too self-conscious and unworthy for far too long to take the risk of doing the very thing I feel is a creative gift from God. Instead, I give in to my fears and think it’s not good enough and then don’t write at all.
Or maybe it’s deeper than that. Maybe this year you resolve to improve your family relationships, and your act of repentance is to seek to repair a broken relationship. Maybe your act of repentance is to go to therapy and work on your own issues. Maybe your act of repentance is to seek healing for yourself.
So after the resolution fervor has passed, remember John the Baptist, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Repent, turn back to God, and experience the change of Christ in your life. Resolutions are fine, but most of them will fade by January 31st. If you seek real change in 2012, choose repentance, experience real change–transformation in your life, and know that God continually offers forgiveness and restoration when we continually seek repentance and forgiveness.