I always think of the opening line to Snoopy’s first novel in the old “Peanuts” cartoon: “It was a dark and stormy night.”
On Dec. 26, at 12:01 a.m., the lights go out in Indiana. The Christmas trees are out in the gutter, the Nativity scenes are once again in the back of the garage. By Epiphany, the big day — like the kids’ toys — is barely a memory.
Northern Indiana is the land of the Great Dark. It begins right around All Saints Day. Hoosiers hunker down when the clouds settle in from Canada in the fall; they know it won’t be over until the first spring tornadoes come up from the Southwest. And if the sky is blue and brilliantly sunny in January or February, Hoosiers also know the temperature won’t get above zero.
That’s why they light things up right after Halloween. It is light therapy without a light box. But once it’s done, it’s done. The Great Dark doesn’t end until Easter at the earliest. Hoosiers will be in the middle of it until after the regular season begins in baseball. So it goes.
The Great Dark bumps into Ordinary Time in mid-January. Ordinary Time begins on the day after the feast of the Baptism of the Lord, the Sunday after the Epiphany on Jan. 6. There are exceptions to this dating, but the thing to keep in mind is this: You’ll never celebrate the First Sunday in Ordinary Time. Ever.
What I’m told by the liturgists is that since the Christmas season concludes with the Baptism of the Lord, Ordinary Time always begins on the Monday or Tuesday after the feast, never on a Sunday. The following Sunday is then counted as the Second Sunday of Ordinary Time, this year Jan. 20.
As a kid, I always thought Ordinary Time between the end of the Christmas season and Ash Wednesday was its own Great Dark. Between the glory of the Nativity and the drama of Lent, the time seemed uneventful. Ordinary.
But there is nothing ordinary in “Ordinary Time.” It is the faith lived, loved and taught daily in the life of the Church. It is the story of the Good News.
It’s that way right from the start. The Gospel for the Second Sunday of Ordinary Time is either John the Baptist’s acknowledgment of Christ as the Lamb of God, or Christ’s first miracle when he changes water into wine at the wedding at Cana. This year it is Cana (Jn 2:1-11).
Cana is one of my favorite “sit down and let me tell you a story” parts of Scripture. John tells us that Jesus, his disciples and Mary were invited to celebrate a marriage at Cana. We can picture them laughing and socializing. But during the wedding celebration, the wine runs short. Knowing the embarrassment this would cause the bride and groom, Mary goes to her Son.
“They have no wine,” she says to him. Jesus answers, “Woman, how does your concern affect me? My hour has not yet come.” But Jesus tells the waiters to fill six jars with water and take them to the steward of the feast. The steward proclaims that the best wine had been saved for last.
Jesus’ first miracle — changing water into wine so a young couple won’t be embarrassed —is so miraculously ordinary.
It’s good that we have Ordinary Time to help us through those days leading up to Lent. We can fill ourselves with stories like Cana and remember that there is no such thing as a believer without confident hope in the miraculous during the ordinary. Especially in a dark and stormy night.
Robert P. Lockwood writes from Indiana.