Every year the long awaited Christmas season arrives and, try as I might to let it linger, it does seem to dissipate rather quickly leaving something of a dull ache behind. Perhaps this feeling is telling of how we approach Christmas in the first place, as it can so often end up buried in hurry (that favourite cultural pastime which threatens the missing out on everything Christmas promises). And so Christmas, we sometimes remark, can seem to “rush past” as its message and meaning gets inextricably bound together with an ever accelerating pace of life. Rush to the end of year sales, rush to church, rush to the family dinners. Rush to see the baby, and then rush off again.
Of course we mustn’t be too hard on ourselves, much of what the season holds is good and fun and precious. But such haste here and there can produce a contentment in the rapidity. And, when we finally get to settling down we inevitably end up unsettling ourselves once more, this time in the name of a new year and new action. Just when the list is finally checked off we scribble down another, this one lauded “resolutions”. Some of us seem to keep moving at all costs, which can leave one a little tired or torn over the whole matter.
Psalm 1 is often described as the psalm of “the two ways”. It begins this way:
“Happy are those who do not do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread, or sit at the seat of scoffers; but their delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law they meditate day and night.”
The writer is keenly aware that people are easily driven, directed, shaped. The path you go down will take you somewhere specific. Those you surround yourself with will influence you one way or another. What you take an interest in will yield an interest. In the words of Jesus in Matthew 6, “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also”. And so the psalmist urges us to be mindful. Mindful to walk YHWH’s path, to sit in his company, and to take an interest in (or delight in) what he has to say – and to do all that “day and night”, recurrently. There are, of course, other paths, other companions, other guiding words, but these, warns the psalmist, lead us down dead-end roads.
The following image we’re given to support such an urge, to walk YHWH’s path and sit in his company, is of a tree or trees planted by fresh and running water:
“They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither. In all they do, they prosper.”
As we turn toward a new year, perhaps still feeling a little behind from the last, we might heed the wisdom found in the Psalm of “the two ways”. Before we rush off down another new path – of which there are plenty to choose from – we might take a moment to ponder where it will take us. Before we tune in to the many voices offering this bit of advice and that bit of perceived wisdom, we might first keep company with wisdom’s Source awhile. Before we get down to drawing up the lists and setting out the plans we might turn an eye to the way and an ear to the words of God. And perhaps in doing so we might find ourselves, this time next week, or even next year, not so withered and a little more watered.
Happy New Year