I must be one of the very few people who likes the month of January. At least I haven’t met anyone else who likes it as much as I do. I suppose the reason why it isn’t a popular month has to do with the fact that it comes like some sort of anti-climax after the frenetic activity and festivities of Christmas. It’s also the month when the credit card bills kick in and the spending frenzy of Christmas and New Year takes its revenge. Sadly, it is also the month with the highest annual number of suicides.
But it does have a lot going for it. It may be long and dark and the weather may not be so good, but it is also a stretch of time worth saving. Someone said the other day about this Christmas: “Thank God, it’s over”. But we say that every year. The days following Christmas and leading into the New Year can seem strange and empty with the sky often looking like a badly painted watercolour.
Still, there is something comforting about these annual rituals of Christmas and New Year. The cyclical nature of this time of year can be reassuring. The repetition of things can often be comforting. Life is a wheel of beginnings and endings and we return to the same old beginning every January. I look out the window in front of me and I realize that soon the sun will be higher in the the sky and Spring will arrive without any effort on my part. And the theological theme of the month (if a month can have such a thing) is about beginning again.
It’s fitting, then, that the great feast of the Epiphany occurs early in the month. The “showing forth” or manifestation of Christ as the Light of the world is appropriate for such a dark and often dismal time. Epiphany marks the last day of Christmastide, old Christmas Day, and, as a feast, is given much more prominence in the eastern Church than Christmas Day.
The story of the three wise men visiting the Child Jesus is brilliantly told by T S Elliot in his poem The Journey of the Magi. And it is the “journey” more than the visitation described in the poem that is important. The wise men travelled a great distance in difficult conditions to see the Child Jesus. Their return journey was no less arduous having to travel by a different route. But the real point of the story is that when they arrived back home they could not settle and no longer felt at ease in the old dispensation of their place and lives. Something had changed within them and they could no longer continue to live as they had been living. They had changed. They even described this change as a sort of “death” for them, the death of an old way of living.
And that, surely, is the message of the Epiphany, the change it calls for in our lives. We, too, have been enlightened by Christ and should no longer continue to live as we do. January is about beginning again, every year, and making a fresh start in our lives. Beginning again and again and again.
The Irish poet, Brendan Kennelly, puts it better in his poem, Begin Again.
“Though we live in a world that dreams of ending
That always seems about to give in
Something that will not acknowledge conclusion
Insists that we forever begin”.
So let’s begin – again!