January is a cold month for change; especially with a Polar Vortex dropping temperatures to dangerous levels.
I find celebrating the New Year in the winter counter-intuitive. If I’m honest – I don’t like the idea at all. I want to stay inside and not do much of anything but sit under a cozy blanket and recover from Christmas. I bet you do too (even if you’ve already cleaned up Christmas and put it away).
It is difficult in the winter to take up something new or remove something old.
The joy of putting up so many decorations in preparation for Christmas is met by the drag of putting them all away. A needed and well anticipated school break is met by the cold reality of full days and weeks of school (with the exception of an occasional snow day or two) as winter really starts to take hold. This year’s Polar Vortex has engulfed 49 out of 50 States in bitter cold. (Hawaii – though not affected by the Polar Vortex; did report below freezing temperatures by a volcano.) I can hardly believe that in the midst of weather like this too many people are concerned about their New Year’s Resolutions anymore – we have more important things to concern ourselves with now – staying warm, trying to get our cars to start, making good weather choices about standing outside and stocking up supplies so we can bunker down inside where it is warm. Caring for those left out in the cold – is a greater priority to me than cutting down on my caloric intake. After all – its cold out there – we should be fattening up to make it through this already frigid winter. 🙂
But maybe that is the point.
It is difficult to make mid-year course corrections. It is challenging to say “no” to creature comforts after the holidays are over. It takes an effort to look at one’s tree cherished over the past several weeks and take it to the curb and put all those decorations away. The calendar dictates that we get back on schedule after saying goodbye to loved ones and friends. January asks this of us every year. Even the Wise Men have to go home. But they go home by another road.
We can go home by another road too.
A few weeks ago if you were to ask me to think about changes I would like to make in my personal life, with my family, or here at church I would have found that conversation exhausting. “Get me to Christmas, and we can talk about that later,” I’d probably say, or at least think to myself while trying to be polite. But now January is here. Now the cold of winter is here. Now the decorations and tree are still staring at me a week after this New Year has begun, and it feels like I’m already behind on my work. It is time to act. It is time to get on with things, think anew about things; perhaps even change some things. On the rainy drive back from a hospital visit on Sunday new ideas started to fill my head about improvements I wanted to make, objectives I wanted to accomplish, and problems that needed attention and how to start working on them. It was my own drive home by another road. That is what the New Year offers to us in the wisdom of those Magi from the East – an opportunity not only to pack the baby Jesus in our crèche sets away, but to hold him close – so that his breath, his warmth, his new baby smell penetrates our very being as we stand in the grime of the stable. We enter this time of Epiphany with a great “aha” with no attempt to keep things as they are and preserve them forever. We stand at the threshold of a whole new journey and it starts by taking one step forward.
What will this New Year bring for us besides the cold?
It is difficult to make predictions about the future, but I know there will be challenges unforeseen to tackle together and celebratory moments that will also take us by surprise. We will hold onto the promise that “God is with us” even though our nativity sets will be long put away. We’ll remind one another of our limitations with ashes and get ready for another full and busy Lent. Holy Week already looms over us in the winter darkness in the distance. But dawn also approaches. Spring will bring forth life from under this snow and bitter cold. Easter and the new life promised from an empty grave is already drawing near. And the Spirit, with its new fire waiting to be unleashed into this world, calls us once again to bear the light in the darkness, where the darkness cannot overcome.
My reminder for you amidst this Polar Vortex is to look for the embers already burning on the path of the new road set before us this New Year. Like your fireplace burning logs on this cold winter day remember the words of the prophets of old. Remember the manger. Remember the cross. Remember the grave bursting open. Remember those followers of Jesus afraid and alone and closed in behind locked doors who were too frightened to see what was on the other side until that new fire burst upon them, and the cold dark winter melted away.
A new road awaits us all.
Bundle up. Tread lightly. Do not go outside unprepared. But know that our efforts to kindle the fire is not what calls us forward, but the burning fire of the Spirit placed upon our foreheads – yearning for new horizons, just like those Magi going home by another road.
Where will we go?
Wherever the Spirit leads. It might even be someplace warm. I hope Florida.*
It is you who light my lamp; the Lord, my God, lights up my darkness. (Psalm 18:28)