"The land seems to be dead this time of year; that is if you live where the weather has turned cold, deciduous trees are bare of their leaves, and green is gone from the ground. That's why winter can be such a stark and burdensome time for many. But the land isn't dead: it's sleeping 'hibernating' waiting. Winter can be a time of barrenness and hardship, yet as anyone who's seen snow and ice stunningly transform the dormant knows it can also be a time of wonder and delight."
Winter can seem eternal, but as the prophet Isaiah reminds, it's a bounded season which contains within it the water that enables spring: the rain and snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater. The frozen ground heaves and thaws; ice crackles as it melts and refreezes. The whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now, Paul says, eagerly longing for the revealing of the sons of God.
Donald Hall, a poet from New Hampshire, was thoroughly biblical when writing about ""Advent's event: the birth of the child who rises from Winter to die and rise again in Spring" (Winter, 88).* During this time of longer darkness and harsher conditions, we think of Gabriel's words to Mary that she would be "overshadowed" by the Most High and bring forth a holy child who is the Son of God. We think of our Savior growing in the darkness of Mary's womb like a seed hidden in the soil until sprouting forth. This Holy Seed, born in a town called Bethlehem, "House of Bread", was laid in a feeding trough where animals came for grain. He is the Word sent forth from the mouth of God Isaiah was writing about, the one who accomplishes the very purpose for which he was sent. He is the one who spoke of himself as a grain of wheat falling into the earth and dying in order to be more than a seed and bring forth much fruit. Is it any wonder that this Word made flesh is the one who melts what's frozen and makes the waters flow like the psalmist says? Is it any wonder that the child who's born in winter is the one who dies and rises to life again in spring?
But what about us, and all we have to "suffer through" in the winters of our lives? How can we make it through the labor pains of life? How can we deal with the futility that grips us with despair and doesn't want to let go? How do we deal with the death and decay that destroys the people and places we love? By beholding; by seeing and knowing that things will not always be this way. It's a season which is giving way to so much more. Paul says: The sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us; creation will be set free " we await the redemption of our bodies. How do we wait? With eager longing, yes, but also in hope and with patience; hope because the same Christ who came down from heaven for our salvation rose up from the dark grave of death and will bring about the final resurrection and world yet to come; patience because we have the first-fruits of the Spirit, the guarantee that it's full, not empty, waiting.
So how do we wait? Sit around and twiddle our thumbs, whiling away the time? No! Waiting is active, not passive. Anyone who's ever been a restaurant server or "waiter" knows that. We come to where our Lord gathers us as his baptized children and partake of the bread of his body and the wine of his blood. We forgive others as he forgives us. We give ourselves to the work Jesus has given us, loving our enemies and even praying for those who make us suffer (Matthew 5:44). We behold whatever and whomever we might think forsaken in the knowledge that the present corruption of this world and our hearts is passing away. We behold our lives in proportion to the rest of Creation of which we're only a part; not having or doing whatever we want out of selfish, distorted love, but following our dying and rising Savior. We lose our lives according to social standards in order to truly find them here and now and forever.
Because Jesus, the Word made flesh, has come like snow which melts and waters the seed that sprouts and grows, we see winter as a time of beauty, and yes, even joyful waiting. Isaiah couldn't help but say: You shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills before you shall break into singing, and all of the trees of the field shall clap their hands. Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle; and it shall make a name for the Lord, an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off. Does that sound anything like "Joy to the World"? You bet it does! So, let's not only sing that joy but live it! Let's give up our sins and sorrows and with all the Earth receive our King who dwells among us in the land of the living! In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
*Winter: A Spiritual Biography of the Season, eds. Gary Schmidt and Susan M. Felch (Woodstock, VT: SkyLight Paths Publishing, 2003).
Going Further: Consider having a reading group take on and discuss Peter Hobbs's novel The Short Day Dying. If you'd rather have a film discussion group, watch and talk about the winter/Advent & Christmas connections you see in The Spitfire Grill.