Heading Into the New Year or When the Camel Dies ©

Yesterday, I closed the Year of our Lord in great joy, praise and thanksgiving. Our youngest grandson, Adam Amittai (Jonah’s father’s name; it means “truth;” otherwise he is known as “Awesome Adam” to me) Gabrielse-Lowry was baptized. In this sacred act (sacrament), we – his family – celebrated God’s presence and embrace of Adam as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. What a great way to end one year and begin another!

I have been musing on how we are to head into the new year. There is much that can be written and shared. We could rightly discuss at length such things as faith, commitment, service, etc. Instead, suspecting how tumultuous this new year of Our Lord 2018 will be, I choose to focus on what to do when the camel dies. Allow me to explain.

My wife is a member at Arborlawn UMC, and as an accompanying spouse I get to attend that church more than any other. One of the experiences we enjoyed greatly this Advent was their live nativity celebration. It is a wonderful way to step back into the story of the Savior’s birth and learn again of the ways of God with us! This is not the first time we have attended Arborlawn’s live nativity (and a number of the churches I had the privilege of serving held live nativities themselves). As we sat on a bale of hay watching, people in the know whispered that we should watch the new camel. He entered on cue somewhat rambunctious and rebellious. The week following, I inquired to Rev. Ben Disney (the East District Superintendent and former pastor of Arborlawn) about the “back story” of the camel. He shared the following tale:

“For years Arborlawn UMC has presented a Live Nativity event for the congregation and community. The telling of the Christmas story and the birth of Jesus involves close to 200 volunteers, costumes, set designs, music, dancing angels, and live animals such as a herd of sheep, donkey and a camel.

For 10 consecutive years the same camel appeared in each presentation; an older camel named Elisha who was remarkably gentle and tame. Children were encouraged to surround it and pet it. The camel would always remain calm in spite of loud noises, distractions, children running or large crowds just a few feet away. Every year, without fail, the camel would kneel on cue at the feet of the newborn savior to pay homage to the birth of our savior.

A few years ago it happened. Elisha the camel returned for another performance as part of the Live Nativity pageant. The early presentation of the evening went on without a hitch. As always, on cue, Elisha the camel processed in with the wise men and knelt down to honor the newborn king. Following the early presentation Elisha was escorted to a corral where he waited for the final evening show. Elisha laid down. A few children came over to pet it. One of them remarked that something didn’t seem right. The handler for Elisha said the camel was just sleeping. The children were quickly escorted away. Elisha had passed away.

For the second presentation of the evening no camel was used. The presentation went on without Elisha and the cast improvised as best they could.

The following year a new very young camel was brought in to take the place of Elisha, the older camel. But the younger camel was unlike Elisha. The new, younger camel was nervous and aggressive. The children were not allowed to pet it and the cast held their breath hoping the handler could control him as they processed in for the crucial scene. The new, younger camel did manage to bow down to the newborn child but it was only after a lot of coaxing and pulling on the part of the handler. Defiant and rebellious to the end the newer younger camel was taken quickly to the corral for the safety of the crowd, especially the children.”

What do you do when the camel dies? What do you do when something which seems essential or at least very important, doesn’t work, or moves on, or dies? Those are questions for we who would enter the new year in faith.

The obvious answer is that you trust God and go forward in faith. In sharing his story, Rev. Disney noted, “I do find it intriguing that the final act of the old camel on this earth was to bow down before the lord of lords and the king of kings.” I am more than convinced, I am convicted that the final act of the old camel must be our first act of the New Year.

Epiphany Day is traditionally understood as January 6th. It is the day that the magi (wise men) are said to have arrived to present their gifts to the baby Jesus. So here is where we both end the old year and begin the New Year, in adoration of Christ the Lord. The new young camel came in full of vim and vigor at this year’s live nativity. He was rambunctious. We need his energy in our lives and in the life of the church. But we need it harnessed to the kneeling in faith of the old camel.

From a posture strangely mixed with adoration and enthusiasm, awe and energy, commitment and courage, we are called by the Lord of the New Year to embrace this entrance into uncharted territory. Biblically speaking, the Christmas story isn’t over at all. It is just beginning. Our entry into 2018 must be guided by obedient pioneering faith. We enter the unknown led by the Lord.

Recently I have been reading Canoeing the Mountains: Christian Leadership in Uncharted Territory by Tod Bolsinger. I commend it highly. Using the metaphor and model of the Lewis & Clark Expedition for moving into uncharted territory, he offers tremendous insight for how we might move forward into the new year. Bolsinger outlines five critical lessons for leadership in uncharted territory (heading into the New Year).

  1. “The World in front of you is nothing like the world behind you.
  2. No one is going to follow you off the map unless they trust you on the map.
  3. In uncharted territory, adaptation is everything.
  4. You can’t go alone, but you haven’t succeeded until you’ve survived the sabotage.
  5. Everybody will be changed (especially the leader).”
    (Tod Bolsinger, Canoeing the Mountains: Christian Leadership in Uncharted Territory, p. 17)

How do we head into the New Year of our Lord 2018? With persistence, perseverance and faith. When the camel dies, we go forward into uncharted territory. Before we do – critically before we do!!- we kneel in adoration and homage. Then, like the young camel, we go forward with zeal.

Happy New Year!

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