As we quietly turn the page, leaving 2021 behind, the initial excitement of the new year can fizz away as quickly as the half-drunk bottle of prosecco in my fridge. Complete with the obligatory spoon in the neck to retain the bubbles (we all do it, even though we know it is a myth) it seems we repeat the same patterns and habits irrespective of outcome. Some of these familiar paths are instinctive and allow us to form healthy routines and traditions that can hold us and form strong bonds of connection to people and place. The exception to this, however, can be January!
January the month of exception- or the exceptional month?
I know quite a few people who celebrate their birthday at the beginning of January and loath it: truly loath it. The darker days and chilly weather are all sighted and duly apportioned at least partial blame, but something about this light-less month makes me think there is something else lacking; something other that we are craving after our return to earth from sugar rush, mince pie induced highs. But let’s take a moment to just sit and acknowledge how we are feeling right now, at the start of another year.
Are there things you want to change about your life?
Are there things you wish were different?
Are there things for which you feel grateful?
Each of these questions can be a prayer, that the month of January is uniquely placed to help us answer and respond to. Most of us can remember a time when we were swept away in the excitement of an event or even a season and then the flat, hollow feeling when the party must end, and the work begins again (often on a Monday morning!). Work in this context, seems to have more to do with how we feel about every day life, than any reference to paid employment. It is that thing you do, most days, when there are no special events or holidays. Many of us spend a large chunk of our ‘most days’ planning for the next event; birthday, wedding, visit etc. to help us through the bits of our lives that may seem joyless, difficult or mundane.
But what if there was always special seasons and markers on the way to help us celebrate all of life and challenge us to pursue joy in each God given day?
This is where January is waiting patiently in the chill air to tell of her riches and imbibe us with her stories.
The month of the twelfth night and robins, wolf moon and wassailing. Of forced rhubarb, purple sprouting broccoli and oranges delightfully bitter and ripe ready to be made into marmalade. Of snowdrops, witch hazel and wintersweet, (Chimonanthus praecox) whose waxy yellow flowers appear bold on bare stems in winter, offering out incense-like fragrance for the earth to enjoy. This month can reveal to us the importance of change, growth, and the gift of unexpected pleasures if we let the light sweep in.
This Sunday, some communities will be celebrating Plough Sunday, when traditionally the plough, farmers and land would have been blessed. I love that connection to the earth, our dependence upon the soil and those whose work is producing the food we all eat. In many places of worship, we shall also be celebrating the Baptism of Jesus, and pondering the significance of this earthly ritual that roots Jesus to the land, sea and air. But does God need to be Baptised? When Jesus gives himself up to the water in full surrender, the banks of the Jordan become a thin place; heaven and earth merge, and for the briefest of times God’s kingdom is manifest. This outpouring of God’s love and support for Jesus happened in a river.
Surrounded by everyday people.
13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. 14 John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15 But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfil all righteousness.” Then he consented. 16 And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. Matthew 3: 13-16 (NRSV)
I appreciate Matthew’s version of events because it highlights how Jesus needed to fulfil this ritual, to intertwine his story to our story and most importantly to illustrate that all of creation is sacred. This month we can choose to seek out the sacred as we enjoy the slower pace of these wintery days by seeing the divine in the landscape. That is different from being thankful for the beauty of creation (though that is good too) and is more about finding the spirit of the creator God in her wild, untamed glory!
I pray that this New Year will bring you closer to your God, one another and all of creation. Amen.