Happy New Year…whenever it is

For the longest time, having January in January seemed like a colossally bad idea to me. January is the month we officially turn the page and mark the transition from one year to the next. Everyone gets used to writing a new year on their checks and their Christmas thank you notes. Of course a lot of these will get torn up because we are such creatures of habit, even this simple adjustment takes some getting used to. I know it used to take me the entire month to shake the old year out of my psyche, but the transition has gotten a lot easier with computers, email and online banking. These days, I can count on one hand the number of times I physically write out the date anymore. Calendar-wise, technology has been a real blessing. For my penmanship, well that’s another story.

But why celebrate the New Year in January at all? Does it feel like a new year in January? To me, it feels like anything but new. In January, it just feels like more of the same. Only worse. We wish each other Happy New Year, finish the last of the eggnog, pack away the ornaments and then hunker down. I mean, what’s there to look forward to in January. February? About the only way that you can tell the difference between January and February is that there are fewer ads for Jenny Craig and the Nicoderm patch in February. I guess that’s a promising sign. That is, if you can overlook the whole ground hog thing.

I’ve always thought it would be better to have January in April. That’s about the time when things start to feel new. Cherry blossoms are famously in bloom, whatever was brown is turning green, and my spirit begins to expand instead of just my waistline. The world feels hospitable and kind, not out for your throat. Doesn’t this seem like the natural time to celebrate the New Year? But instead, each year the ball drops on a frozen world and we shout Happy New Year, toss ICE MELT like confetti and hunker down to wait for the thaw.

Well, maybe it’s a product of age, but I can now understand a certain poetic logic in celebrating the new at the bleakest time of the year. When you stop to think about it, daring to resolve new things for ourselves at the very time when the inertia of our lives is at its strongest, is a powerful statement of faith. It is the hope that dares to hope against all odds, and therefore can never really be disappointed. It all goes back to the hallmark of the Christian life lived after Easter: “Watch. Keep awake.”

If I take that to heart, I have to admit that new things never begin when I think they do. Usually, and I’ve learned this the hard way many times, by the time I am aware of some grand development unfolding in my life, it’d been going on for quite some time. In fact, in my ignorance, I may have feared it and even tried to stop it. Only to cause myself and those around me much pain and suffering. Then it happens and we fear the worst and lo and behold, April dawns and we find that God is still God bringing forth goodness, light and blessing. Where I saw only bleakness and dead ends, God was at work sowing rich possibilities. And, what seemed like the end of the world turned out to be not the end at all. It was just the beginning. Which leads me to the other phrase that runs throughout the New Testament…”Fear not.”

I guess the New Year doesn’t just burst upon the scene in April. It really begins here, in the bleakness of January, when the world falls silent and the snow swirls, the hand of God moves even now, through the early darkness, planting seeds. Watch. Keep awake. Fear not. And, by the way, Happy New Year. April is coming.

About Charles Oberkehr

I am the pastor of Epiphany Lutheran Church of Mount Vernon, an ELCA congregation of the Metropolitan Washington DC Synod.
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2 Responses to Happy New Year…whenever it is

  1. Terri Kriegel says:

    Thank you, Pastor O. This New Year has been a bit trying so your articles are inspirational. Karl in hospital emergency room for New Years–now home–with pneumonia. I am also not up to par with a bad chest cold. Prayers would be appreciated and we will return once we are feeling well and not contagious.
    So the Daily Inspirations and artciles are right on target!

    Bless you, Pastor O.

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