January in the western calendar marks the beginning of a New Year. Around the world, different faiths and cultures celebrate the new year or new beginnings at various times. For example, in 2021 the Chinese New Year, the year of the ox, will start on February 12th. Oxen are characterised as strong, reliable and hard-working, but also stubborn!

The Christian church entered its new year a month ago, at Advent, when it looked forward to Christmas. Its first festival of the calendar year is Epiphany. An epiphany is a moment of sudden and great revelation. In the life of Jesus, Epiphany is linked to two key moments: the visit of the Magi (wise men) to the baby Jesus in Bethlehem and the baptism of Jesus (as an adult) by John the Baptist.

All these moments are linked by a great sense of hope and discovery.

At New Year, many of us may make resolutions or begin new projects, to try to change something in our lives for the better. How many of us have started a diet or gym membership in January?

Perhaps the great hope and discovery as we enter 2021 are the vaccines (three so far) for Covid-19. It has been a remarkable achievement by scientists across the world to develop and test these – testament to what humanity can achieve by working together: strong, reliable and hard-working, like oxen. Science too has its epiphanies: for example, the discovery that a half-dose of the Oxford University/ AstraZeneca vaccine, followed by a full dose booster jab, is even more effective than the original dosage.

Often in January we long for springtime and summer, for longer, lighter, warmer days. This January, as hospitals and other health services struggle to cope with more Covid-19 cases than ever, we travel in hope through what we know will be a long, dark and arduous journey following a glimmer of light, just as the wise men travelled in hope (probably for months) to Bethlehem following their star. Likewise, John the Baptist’s message was one full of hope: get ready, the Messiah is coming (the saviour people had hoped for all their lives)!

We close this month with a Celtic “circling” prayer which begins this journey of hope:

Circle me, O God.
Keep hope within, keep despair without.
Keep peace within, keep worry without.
Keep joy within, keep fear without.
Keep love within, keep hatred without.
Keep strength within, keep hatred without.
Keep light within, keep darkness without.