New Year's Day flames out in peach, pink, and periwinkle. The evening air is full of the scent of snow, woodsmoke, and savoury dinner as I step onto my porch to watch the repose of the day. Inside, candles and fresh tulips nod their cheer as the five o'clock greyness rolls over the foothills.
I love winter and fresh starts. I love being up in the frosty night to greet the new day and year with fireworks. I love bright sun spilling in my window and waking eyes, church bells tumbling me out of bed, and the brisk walk to worship. I love blank pages waiting to be filled and new years feeling hopeful in the face of the unknown. At any other time of year, the unknown has a way of frightening me a bit; but at the beginning of the year, the unknown is exhilarating. My expectations are much more malleable in January than they are in June. In the crisp air I feel awake and ready for what God is going to bring. By the wilting heat of summer, I feel drowsy and resigned.
At the beginning of things there is life and energy and optimism, and those are needed to propel us into another year. The New Year opens in the midst of Christmastide, when the Candle keeping the dark at bay has come—He is the hope of Easter redemption. Winter is dear to me with its variegated grey clouds, heaps of snow around dried grasses, chipper little birds piping their carols, bare branches stark and striking against the stars; its sharp, pure air breathed out in little puffs, in warm fuzzy slippers, copious pots of tea, stew simmering on the stove, hot bread all flaky from the oven. . .Winter is joyous.
Winter is both the cosiest and the most invigorating season. No wonder our fresh start comes just days after the winter solstice and the "dawn of redeeming grace" of the Incarnation. There is something comforting about God slipping into flesh, becoming vulnerable and subject to want, need, and humanity. Yet there is something enlivening, exciting about it, too. Dawn has pushed back those grey skies with honey-coloured sunlight and sharp air in our lungs. There is hope that the Light—whether of day or of moon and stars—will illuminate our path. That the Light will guide us into His ways.
As I scrambled out of bed this morning I felt inspired, awake. The bells beckoned me to tread the icy path to the little white church around the bend. There my eyes were greeted by life-sized shepherds, wise men, and the Holy Family. I smiled, glad to see them back, as they had been vandalised a couple of Christmases ago. I sneaked in on the opening hymn, my three-year-old niece's favourite song: Joy to the World! I was totally unprepared for the garlands of greenery, the woodland pine and branches, the red berries, and a huge live tree covered in poinsettias and lights. The clean plaster walls looked merry, as did the gentleman I joined in the pew. My winded voice sang out, "Repeat the sounding joy!" and we did. In the Eucharist, like the angels told the shepherds, and the shepherds told everyone about the baby in the feeding trough, we repeated the resounding, reverberating joy that God became flesh and tabernacled among us—that our redemption is nigh.