January can be a drag, a real letdown.
The remaining Christmas cookies are stale crumbs and the tree, once so respected, has been ingloriously dragged out of the house to be recycled into mulch. One by one, the Christmas lights in the neighborhood have gone out, as if some festive power grid is failing, and night seems a little darker.
After the Epiphany, even the liturgical excitement has waned and we slip rather disconsolately into that oh-so-well-named "ordinary time."
For me, the first lines of Christina Rossetti’s beautiful Christmas poem are more appropriate for the grim days of January than December’s dazzle: "In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan, Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone."
But the new year heralds good things as well and provides opportunity for growth. It brings with it a sense of order re-established. My house never looks cleaner and less cluttered than the day I vacuum up the departed tree’s last needles.
January invites us to dig deeper into the mystery we have just commemorated. Leaving the eggnog and the parties behind, we ask ourselves just what the Incarnation really means in our lives. That’s a hard question. Its best answer must be found in prayer.
One of my favorite lines from the Advent readings is from Micah 5:4, "He shall be peace." The early prophet was not saying Israel’s future king would bring peace or foster peace. No, much deeper, much more encompassing than that. He will be peace.
It reminds you of what Jesus said. "I am the way, and the truth and the life." I’m not merely showing you the way, spelling out for you the truth. I am the way.
This can only mean, for us, that we must engage in relationship with Jesus. We aren’t just called to do good in this world, but to grow with him who is good, he who is the image of the invisible God. This is a call we cannot neglect.
Put yourself in the mind of a Jewish person at the time of Christ. Your faith has taught you that a Messiah will appear someday, to save the people of God from their grievous suffering. All of the prophets point to a future king in David’s line. If the Gallup Poll existed back in Jesus’ day, the average Jewish person would probably have described for the pollster this Messiah in terms of military might and power.
At the time of Christ’s birth, Judah and Galilee, the towns of Bethlehem and Nazareth, and even Jerusalem, were all under the crushing heel of the boot of the Roman Empire. If you dreamed of liberation from this mighty force, you probably saw it in terms of revolution, the kind of revolution you imagined your savior would bring.
Could you have visualized your salvation coming in the form of a baby born to the poor? Worse, a man who would eventually be killed in the most ignominious execution the times would allow? How can this be our Messiah?
In some ways, those questions still haunt us. Why does our world still suffer so? Where is our salvation? Why didn’t Jesus change everything?
And moreover, if Jesus surprised his people, how often does he come to us and we fail to see him because we have preconceived ideas of who he is?
Let January be your classroom, Jesus your teacher. Ask him these questions. Take up the challenge of the Year of Mercy and ask Jesus how you can merge yourself into his mind, how he can change everything for you.
Caldarola is columnist for Catholic News Service.