A momentous week lies ahead as we venture further into the New Year – eventually, the Year of the Rooster, once Chinese New Year arrives on January 28. The year of one’s Zodiac sign is traditionally not supposed to be propitious. The new President of the US was born in the Year of the Dog, however. Not much joy there for Mr. Trump, at least according to traditional prognostication. He’ll be sore pressed at work, in health matters, wealth, and love. Too late to turn back now. But then, if you don’t believe in astrology, it probably doesn’t matter.
On a more serious note, the week commences with the annual celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr., Day, an observance honoring one of the greatest American figures of recent history… perhaps all of our history. King changed the course of this country and in many respects, that of the wider world. It remains to be seen how the accession of Mr. Trump will affect either. We can and should hope for the best as the week ahead ends with his inauguration as the 45th President of the Republic.
When someone’s heart is in the Gospel of Jesus, things really can get out of hand. King’s heart was one of those. He was not hesitant to lay down his life for his friends – the oppressed, weary, impoverished, and discounted people of this country and of the world. But also for those who were directly or indirectly oppressive. King opposed injustice, violence, and war. He wanted to change hearts, not stop them. And he did.
Today’s readings continue the story of another such figure, John the Baptist, although after today the focus of Sunday gospels will shift to the teachings of Jesus. But John mattered, especially to Jesus. His heart was in the right place. And he, too, paid for that with his life.
The first two readings remind us that God lifted up Israel and then the New Israel, the community of Jesus Christ throughout the world, to be a light to the nations. Sometimes that light seems to falter and even to fail, but it will not be extinguished. Whether we will add to its brightness and light up the world, as John the Baptist and Dr. King did, or forget the gospel in our enthusiasm for wealth, power, and entertainment is up to us. As King reminded us, “We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”
It’s hard to light up the world with hope. But that is the light, possibly the only one, that will not ultimately fail.