One of the things my husband regularly reminds me of during this time of year, when he wants to gain points with me, is that though he moved me from Florida to Pittsburgh, at least it wasn't any farther north.
I'm not a native of the deep South, dwelling only four years in Louisiana and one in Florida, but there's no question that something happened to my ability to acclimate to the cold during my time in Dixie. My childhood memories are full of sledding and ice skating and making snowmen, walking with friends through the highest drifts and snapping icicles off of trees, and I love to send my kids out to enjoy the white stuff aplenty, regardless of the temperatures. I wait inside for their return, mulling cider and preparing the dough for deep-fried donuts. My favorite family video is one we shot when western Pennsylvania got hit with over two feet of snow and the kids put on mitten puppet shows through gaps in the deck railing.
Maybe it's creaky joints, maybe I just don't get enough practice on the ice anymore, maybe this year it's driving a car that's not built for icy driveways; whatever the reason, as usual, I cast a wary eye at the calendar as October inches toward November and November barrels toward December. My imagination starts to brew, and I tense in anticipation of the blasts of cold and precipitation negatively impacts my muscular-skeletal sensitivities as much as an actual slip or fall does. And the anxieties work as a destructive worm against the joy and contentment I pursue in Christ.
I read an article about "How To Survive the Dark Winters" of Norway, written by a non-native living and working there, and it struck me how it's all a matter of perspective and attitude, neither of which can find traction in our souls unless we submit our expectations and emotions to the Lord. The writer says that there are plenty of things that can be done to keep a positive mood about the frigid temps and the 24-hour periods of darkness, called Polar Nights: soaking up sunlight in the summer and ingesting cod liver oil, both means of increasing vitamin D; building positive memories all year round -- in the winter to make the days more bearable, in the summer for the sake of something to look foward to; getting a daily dose of fresh air and increasing activity to dispel the germ-breeding doldrums of typically sluggish winter hibernation. This is intentional living at its best in a land that weeds out the weak-minded and feeble-bodied.
Where I should be, I realized, is loving the season that God has given me, placing me in this hemisphere where I can experience Christmas with the uniqueness of winter: lights at night, cozy warmth, scurrying through the weather to gather together, more time to read, write and pray, waking up to morning sun shining off the snow . . . except, there's no snow. In fact, the forecast for today and tomorrow is a high of 70 degrees. The birds are confused, singing away every morning. The myrtle is blooming, the grass is greener now than in October. My dog has spring fever, demanding a walk every hour of the day. It's just not Christmas without snow!
So, guess what? I'm dissatisfied again. Back in June, when the heavens poured rain upon western Pennsylvania for weeks and weeks, I wrote a blog post for Three Rivers Grace (and reposted it again here in October) linking weather-related complaints to a rejection of God's good gifts in all things, quoting liberally from Jerry Bridges and Jeremiah Burroughs:
“Complaining about the weather seems to be a favorite American pasttime. Sadly, we Christians often get caught up in this ungodly habit of our society. But when we complain about the weather, we are actually complaining against God who sent us our weather. We are, in fact, sinning against God. Not only do we sin against God when we complain about the weather, we also deprive ourselves of the peace that comes from recognizing our heavenly Father is in control of it.” (Trusting God)
“The soul comes to rejoice and find satisfaction in all God’s ways… [A] godly man who has denied himself will suit with and be glad of all things that shall suit with God’s ends. A gracious heart says, ‘God’s ends are my ends, and I have denied my own ends’; so he has come to find contentment in all God’s ends and ways.” (The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment)
As usual, it seems I am never satisfied, never content. In God's wisdom and goodness, there is a reason to everything, not least of which to serve as a rod to keep me from sin or a guide to Christlikeness. For now, our winter is like summer, so how might God's ends be sought by me, and how might I deny my own?
Let's expand just a bit on that last point for the sake of this Christmas blog. As I quoted from Charles Spurgeon in a post from earlier this week, the date designated for the celebration of the birth of Jesus is not in the least likely the one on which the Messiah was born, and in fact, it's probably in the wrong season of the year. And yet, in God's providence, as Spurgeon says, "Since it is lawful, and even laudable, to meditate upon the incarnation of the Lord upon any day in the year, it cannot be in the power of other men's superstitions to render such a meditation improper for to-day [Christmas Day]. Regarding not the day, let us, nevertheless, give God thanks for the gift of his dear son."
So, this is the day, occurring in the breaching days of the winter season (according to the man-designated solstice cycle), at least for those of us providentially placed in homes and families in the northern hemisphere. The agricultural cycles established by the Divine Planter and Harvester involve death and life, dormancy and vibrancy. In foreshadowing his death, Jesus says in John 12:24, "Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit." Our merciful and kind God knows his children need many pictures that illustrate and flesh out his truths, his character and his promises, and the winter=death/spring=life cycle is one of those pictures.
Jesus has come to save us and bear fruit in us, but we will have to die first: die to ourselves, be buried with him in baptism and raised with him that we might "walk with him in newness of life." (Romans 6:4)
Even if we don't have snow or cold weather for Christmas, we are nonetheless in the midst of a season of deadness -- the bare branches, stunted growth, short days testify to this. But we also have the hope of life -- earthly as spring will come, eternally as Christ has come -- and no degree of darkness or deadness can keep the Savior of life in the ground. His seed bursts forth and bears fruit. We have winter for a reason.
We who generally experience all the bracing, punishing, inconveniencing winter weather that accompanies the calendar turning over to December can still go about preparing for Christmas with a mind toward this promise in Romans, glorifying God's ends as manifested in this world. I finish with Christina Rosetti's poem,In the Bleak Midwinter (also put to music in a carol). I love how she has beautifully illustrated this thought:
In the bleak mid-winter
Frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak mid-winter
Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him
Nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away
When He comes to reign:
In the bleak mid-winter
A stable-place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty,
Enough for Him, whom cherubim
Worship night and day,
A breastful of milk,
And a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him, whom angels
Fall down before,
The ox and ass and camel
Angels and archangels
May have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim
Thronged the air -
But only His mother
In her maiden bliss
Worshipped the Beloved
With a kiss.
What can I give Him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd
I would bring a lamb;
If I were a wise man
I would do my part;
Yet what I can, I give Him -
Give my heart.
Sung here by Sarah McLachlan:
From Thanks2Giving '15
Return to Thinking again
From Thanks2Giving '16
December 1: Being a Pilgrim for Christmas
December 2: Craving Christmas, Desiring Christ
December 3: Strangers on Christmas Day
December 4: Hail Redemption's Happy Dawn!
December 5: Eureka!
December 6: O Henry, the Magi, and the Gift
December 7: Christmas Impersonators
December 8: This Year's Best Christmas Ad?
December 9: Why So Much Joy?
December 10: Where is the Method in the Madness?
December 11: Waiting for Redemption
December 12: Winter for a Reason
December 13: A Special Little Christmas
December 14: Mary and Holy Merriment
December 15: The Christmas Eve Truce
December 16: His Name Shall Be Jesus
December 17: C.B. and the Meaning of Christmas
December 18: Peace, Not Peace
December 19: Moonless Darkness Stands Between
December 20: He Makes Room for Us
December 21: Speaking of Glory . . .
December 22: A Christmas Carol That's Not About Christmas
December 23: Lessons Learned from Lean Christmases
December 24: All My Heart This Night Rejoices
December 25: The Neverending Gift Exchange
A Concluding Note: Do Not Open Until Christmas 2016
Laura Miller, home for the holidays