We have come to the end of January. January represents this time of crossing, of passage. A time where we reflect on what’s behind and reflect on a wise future full of what matters most. A time where we put our trust and longing into the unknown. A time to walk with faith.
It is the time of Epiphany. Epiphany is a “showing” or an “appearing”. On January 6th, Epiphany, it is the last day of Christmas and the time that represents when the wise men come to bear witness to the baby Jesus. It is a showing of the one who brings Hope. The one who will shine in the shadows. It is a time of God on the threshold of darkness to light and unknown to known. Perhaps even a light to darkness and known to unknown.
Like a pendulum, it is impossible to have one without the other. There is no light without dark. There is no known without unknown. There is no hope without sacrifice.
Epiphany, and the following weeks, can be looked at as a time of the baby Jesus and also a young Jesus, who we don’t know much about. There is so much Hope, yes, but also in all the light and hope, there is another side. There are still shadow times to come and hints of this shadow. The wise men bring gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Gold is the gift for a king. Frankincense and myrrh, while spices of wealth, are also the funeral spices. We are already preparing for sacrifice and death in this time of hope and joy.
We, too, as we move through January into February move from this time of hope and joy (usually connection and gatherings) feel this sense of preparation for more sacrifice. While we see more light and longer days, there is still a long, cold season of hibernation ahead. Although the seeds will begin to awaken and the trees will begin leaking their sap in February, there is still a long dreary season ahead before we fully reawaken with spring. But it is a beginning.
There is hope and there is sacrifice.
Tuesday. We like to celebrate it as Groundhog’s Day, a bit of a silly (but, fine, fun) deviation from some of its historic celebrations. Tuesday is the halfway point between winter and spring. It represents a day of one of the ancient fire festivals that eventual came to be Saint Brigit’s Day. Saint Brigit and her followers are the keepers of the flames of Kildare. Light still shining in the dark. Brigit represents also all of the wonderful things of these colder, turning inward months: art, creativity, study, knowledge, self reflection, wisdom. We are in a time of learning and creating. Peace and study. Reflecting and preparing.
It is a time of purification. Fire festivals, light, often represents purification and cleansing. The bible passage above in some translations represents the ritual of Jesus’s circumcision. In other versions, it represented the purification of Mary forty days after the birth of Jesus, when she is cleansed so that she can return to more public life. This forty days lands somewhere near this midway point of Winter and Spring. It is one of the reasons why this Saint Day is represented by more female figures: the Virgin Mary and Saint Bridgit. A reminder that out of the desolation of winter, winter metaphors, new life is to come. New hope is to come. In hope there is sacrifice; in sacrifice there is hope.
Simeon sees the baby Jesus and he is filled with joy and hope. And yet there is death, a hopeful death, he can now die in peace having laid eyes on the Messiah. But, there is also the side of sacrifice in hope and joy. He also tells Mary that “a sword shall pierce your own soul too.”
In every hope, there is loss and sacrifice. In every loss and sacrifice, there is hope. We only have to open our eyes to see it.
February is time is a time of cleansing. Preparing for the new season, preparing for Easter. A waiting almost like a second Advent. Clearing the way. Preparing to bear witness. In what ways might we be preparing for the coming season? In what ways might be prepare for a wise future focused on what truly matters? What might we need to let go of? What might we need to hold tightly to?
In old times, February 2nd was a time when we would light our own lights. Literally. Lighting pure candles to purify home and heart. Preparing for the coming of fire, light, and hope. Having faith that (in the words of Julian of Norwich) “all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”