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To Beat the Winter Blahs

The Church of Our Saviour at Oatlands, January, 13 A.D.2013 – Rev'd Elijah White
First please read Psalm 72, Isaiah 60:1-7, John 8:12-20

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

I’ll take ideas wherever I find them, including an editorial cartoon in yesterday’s Washington ComPost: it depicts a wide fat slimy many-eyed multi-tentacled creature under a caption “Les Miserablah” holding a sign “Really nasty flu bug arrives early.”

The term “blah” caught my mind: flu epidemic or not, this is blah time of year, as Richard III more elegantly put it “the winter of our discontent.” January? Blah. The anticipation and the fun of Christmas are over, and now its bills come due. Astronomically the days are getting longer, but the worst weather is yet ahead. The world seems a worse mess than usual, so we rush to discuss platinum trillion-dollar coins or RG3’s knee or Honey Boo-Boo to distract us from the deadly serious games of politics drifting toward dark eddies and backwaters, all “crises” plural, the Afghan crisis, the health crisis, the Syrian crisis, the Mali crisis – Mali?! – the church crises [also plural], the Congress vs. White House crises, the flu, terrorism…

But these aren’t the old clearly-defined type of crises we’re used to meeting and defeating: in World War Two we knew exactly who the enemies were, where they were, and what we had to do to defeat them – and by jingo we did it! Today and tomorrow, however, our enemies and our problems are more amorphous, no simple problems, no simple solutions however demanding. The America we love, America the justly-proud, America the beautiful, we who only recently felt ourselves to be the forward crest of the wave of history and progress, we feel caught in a long turbulent confused backwash of shoals and brackish flats, as Matthew Arnold, “I only hear the long retreating roar…” or Pogo, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”

I needn’t go on – you can fill in the blanks – you know the feeling I mean: if we’re not sure where we’re going how can we know how to get there? I know far too many very talented, highly-trained, well-educated young collegeb graduates who simply can’t find decent work: when are these blahs going to end, when are things ever going to be normal again? Or were they ever, and we only thought they were? Is this the “new normal”? Why?

What cure, what remedy have we for these blah times which dull ambition, sap our courage, dissipate our energies and enervate our wills? Believe me, on 2,000 years of documented human experience, our healing health must begin not with our exterior circumstances but with our interior disposition. We have only one cure for the blahs, only one remedy, simple enough for the kindergarten child but profound enough for the deepest probing intellect: what hope? Why, Jesus Christ, the beauty of whose coming entranced illiterate shepherds at Christmas and yet brought the wisest of the Magi journeying to the Epiphany, all hastening to worship and adore.

How nice, you say? How wondrous it would be if we, like they, could be on the spot, could see and hear the angels make the dark night of our skies come alive with the glory of God! If only we could hurry to that stable, could fall on our knees before that manger bed and ourselves behold that Infant for whom earth and time were made, who has shaped and challenged human history ever since.

How glorious… but, alas, we draw back from the vision – alas, we fear we were born too late. Locked into time, we feel separated from that manger, from that laughing sorrowing Man who blazed through Galilee like a comet, who rode into Jerusalem like a king, who died like a common criminal, yet who burst again from the cold rock tomb triumphantly alive with God’s own mighty love.

Alas, we draw back from the vision of glory, back to the grey querulous doubts that pass for sophistication, back into the murky webs of ‘yes-but’ and ‘how can we be sure’? We draw back into the half-loved loneliness that breeds and feeds upon itself, and eats at our souls. We are, we imagine, separated from Jesus Christ by twenty centuries of time, of scientific knowledge, of worldly wisdom – the glory time is past, and we are of another, greyer age, a world grown weary of well-doing, a world sick with hope deferred… nationally, internationally, personally…

No! No no no! Nothing separates us from Jesus Christ but our own fear of truly letting go, of trusting Him and loving Him and opening our hearts to His warmth, His love, His power. We are no different from those ignorant shepherds nor from those learned Wise Men, from all those men and women whose humdrum blah lives Jesus Christ has electrified throughout twenty centuries… unless we do not yet fully trust Him.

We can live – not live but ‘exist’ – turned inward upon ourselves like hermits busy-busy-busy in our shuttered basement lives, pottering about amidst our lifelong accumulation of stuff, cursing yet strangely secure in the murk we stumble through. Why will we not open our dark door to the marvelous Light outside?

In today’s Second Lesson, John 8:12, Jesus declares that “I am the Light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” In the Gospel for Christmas Day John 1:4 declares that “in Him was life, and the life was the light of men.” As we just sang, “Christ is the world’s true Light” – as we’ll sing in a moment, He is the “Light of Light that shineth, ere the world began.” Do we truly believe what we sing, or are we just mouthing meaningless words?

We think we can’t know Christ because we fear that leap of faith: better the murk we know, than the Light of which we’re not quite sure. And, if we will not open our door to Him who knocks so often and so lovingly, He will not force us… but how often have we yearned, like priest-poet John Donne, that He would batter our hearts and break His way in – take captive all our doubts and fears and, conquering, make us love Him – but he will not, for He seeks not our obedience but our freely-given love. He will not conquer, He will only court our hearts.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, please pray for me as I pray for you: I aspire to make 2013 truly a Year of our Lord, by deeper Bible study, more spiritual retreats for fasting and prayer, and by trying to preach and teach Jesus Christ even more: come and be courted, come to conquer the blahs with His Light, to hear and to heed His offer and promise of new hope, new life, God’s own glorious future,

in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.