Sometimes the transition back to school from Christmas break can be a challenge. The stark contrast between lounging by the nativity scene with family and jumping into resolutions, meetings, grades and new courses can feel a bit overwhelming for educators and students.
What we often need in these first weeks of January is a gentle transition, a little dawn between the night and the day.
In the season of epiphany, where we remember the magi coming to visit Jesus after his birth but before his ministry, we can find ritual and meaning for this kind of ordinary in between space that can help us move from the restful rhythms of the holidays into the rigorous growth of the new semester.
Because remember, the magi came later. Mary and Joseph had bundled up their son and left the manger. The angels had packed up their choir books and the shepherds had gone back to work. So too, Jesus hadn’t started gathering disciples and changing the world yet. He wasn’t even hanging out in the temple. He was just, we guess, being a regular kid doing normal things.
And yet, the magi still think it’s worth the visit. They still find the divine, they still met Jesus: God Incarnate—even without the fanfare. Just God in the flesh, God being ordinary. No miracles, no glitz. God meets them in a time so ordinary the gospel writers didn’t even find the stories of Jesus at this toddler age worth including in the accounts.
For some of us the new year comes with a burst of new potential and ambition.
But for others of us, returning to all of the responsibilities that sat waiting during the holidays leaves us wondering:
How will we ever find the energy to do all of this again?
Will 2019 really be any different?
Consider this passage from the Old Testament prophet Isaiah that provides hints of hope for what is ahead for Israel and eventually the world through Jesus:
Arise, shine, for your [Jerusalem] light has come,
and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.
See, darkness covers the earth
and thick darkness is over the peoples,
but the Lord rises upon you
and his glory appears over you.
Nations will come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your dawn.
(From Isaiah 60)
This hope isn’t going to come from radically new circumstances, or because the Israelites are finally going to get their act together this time. The kings and the nations (and the magi) aren’t coming because everything is all better immediately.
The good news is just that the Lord rises upon them—that God is around. That’s what will bring the kings. That’s what will make the sun rise. That’s what will usher in nature’s dawn.
I think dawn is God’s way of reminding us that we need in between spaces. We need night and we need day, but we also need the gentle fade from one to the next.
So this January I invite you to consider this moment in your school year. You’ve finished the fall semester and you’ve had the sleep and the party that comes at Christmas. And you can see that the spring semester is coming but maybe you don’t feel all the way ready.
That’s okay. God is around. God rises upon you, even in the dawn. God will meet you in the in-between space. After and also before.
So may you make your resolutions this year about how you’re going to be more on top of your grading, or better at turning in all of your work on time, or quicker in responding to emails, or more gracious with your colleagues or classmates.
But more than resolutions may you also have resolve. May you know that God meets you here and now in the dawn. May you remember he gave us dawns to remind us that there is something that comes between rest and action and that even there God will come.
And like the magi, we too can come. We can bring our worries about Herods, and our finest gifts, and our grouchy camels and just come. We can trust that God will meet us, both as a dear baby and a perfect savior, and thankfully, everything in between.
OC Online Chaplain