Rector's Blog: New Year Same Me
Just before Christmas, I told you about the Christmas cards we hang in our dining room during the holidays. Going into this past Christmas, we noticed that we had received significantly fewer cards than our usual haul. My wife and I wondered for a moment if we should take it personally - had we had been removed from people’s card lists?
But of course, we hadn’t sent out our own Christmas cards yet. It’s possible everyone else was late too?
One year we sent out our cards in February. Yes, February. You might wonder why send them out at all, but we had taken the pictures, we had ordered the cards, they had been delivered and paid for – people were going to get these cards if they were Memorial Day cards.
So, the fact that our cards were late meant nothing: Where were everyone else’s cards?
At 4:00 in the morning on the 26th of December, as we drove to the airport to catch an early flight to see family, I pulled over and dumped a pile of stamped envelopes into a neighborhood mailbox, then jumped back in the car and headed off. We did it! We got the cards out before the New Year! Progress.
This is a good time to say that Christmas cards are not for everyone, and they are not a status symbol or a sign of particular popularity. It’s like some odd club one gets into. Maybe you decide you’re going to send out cards just this one year. But it’s like the mafia – there’s no escape. Just when you think you’re out, they pull you back in. Mostly we send cards specifically to the people who have sent cards to us. And for the people in our little Christmas card cult, sometimes that’s the only time we all check in with each other all year. If you don’t get a Christmas card from me and you want one, just tell me. That’s how you get on the list.
Anyway, 8 days later we returned home to a big stack of new cards. And it hit me: It was not that a large group of friends had written us off, it’s that this year they just happened to be as overwhelmed and behind as we usually are!
And I have to tell you this was a great comfort to me. There is such joy in finding out I’m not the only mess I know.
Every time the calendar flips from December to January, I hear the refrain “New Year New Me.” This is what follows Christmas. I am supposed to conclude my celebration of hope and salvation by deciding to become a different person, or failing that, a marginally better person. New Year New You. The assumption being that you are constantly in need of improvement. And, hey, maybe you are. But I keep thinking about the ways we measure ourselves and the ways we fall short of our own expectations.
And I keep thinking about that stack of cards. A bunch of us were judging ourselves for not being punctual enough in reminding people that we are thinking about them. We were embarrassed by our tardy thoughtfulness. Frustrated by our unwavering humanity. But we knew we couldn’t make any changes midseason, we just had to get through it and enjoy as much as we could.
And I did enjoy it, this Christmas season. I always do somehow. Amidst all the expectation and self-judgment and busyness, and the surprise snowstorms and arctic blasts, we all find ways to celebrate God’s love here on earth. It’s like some powerful, vulnerable spiritual act of defiance against the colder shorter days. The ridiculousness of cutting down a tree and putting it inside your house, then taking a bunch of lights from inside and sticking them outside your house is an act of audacity.
We have the audacity to say that God is showing up in the here and now to love us and our late cards just as we are. We even believe it sometimes. The true fountainhead of joy – the belief that we could be loved for who we are by the One who knows us best.
New Years is us waking up the next day, all vulnerable and hungover and embarrassed that we could ever celebrate that kind of love, that kind of utter grace – the grace of the God who knows us and loves us and is here right now sharing life with us and actually happy about it. We say, this is too good to be true. My cards were late, half my gifts weren’t delivered on time, I was too short with that cashier, I cut someone off, I wasn’t thoughtful enough, organized enough, joyful enough, didn’t work hard enough, and I ate way too much sugar. Jesus deserves better!
New Year New Me. Jesus is coming again next December, and I have a whole year to earn it – to become the kind of person Jesus wouldn’t mind loving.
Maybe our obsession with the New Year really is a kneejerk reaction to the sheer impossible beauty of the Christmas promise: Our unconditional belovedness.
So, I’m going to just say this here: New Year Same Me. I’m not going to try to be a better person this year. I’m going to sit with Christmas a little longer, even if I take down the lights and the tree. Even if I’m glad for the lightening of my schedule and the lengthening of days. I’m going to keep being imperfect, ridiculous, audacious, tardy and thoughtful me. Maybe the same God who loved me so much last month will keep it up in 2023.
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