Saturday, December 22, 2007

In The Bleak Midwinter

Very, very soon, Christmas will be here. Tonight, as I left work, I wished most folks I saw a merry Christmas because many will be taking a four-day weekend this year, and I'll not see them until Dec. 26. We'll be celebrating like everyone else. Family all together, kids opening gifts, and outside the Midwestern midwinter gloom hemming us in. But we'll have a fire going, lights twinkling, and the gloom won't get into the house. Or into our hearts.

Long ago I read one of those "what the first Christmas was really like" articles. The writer pointed out that no one knows for sure the month of Jesus' birth, and that many scholars were (as I think he put it) sure that it was any month but December. For a long time, I was convinced it was August (my own birth month). In fact, I felt quite superior to all those folks who believed December 25 was the birthday of Jesus. I even thought about celebrating Christmas another day, in another season, just to show that I was more "informed" and "authentic" than they (translate: "snobbish").

I feel differently now. Maybe the date of Christmas was first chosen to Christianize a pagan holiday; maybe Jesus was born some other time of the year; and, yes, the most important thing is not when He was born but that He has indeed been born. But I'm glad we celebrate Christmas when we do, "in the bleak midwinter," as one song puts it, when "earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone." Now, at the darkest time of the year, and the most bitter so far as nature is concerned, we celebrate the invasion of the world by Light.

It's all too easy, in midwinter, to fall into the gloom that falls upon the earth. Outside my window, I see grey everywhere, not just in the skies but on the streets of my town and in the windows of the houses I drive past. It is cold, upper Midwestern cold--not southern cold that bites at you but the kind that can devour you if you let it. The world is a place to retreat from--not the earth only, but the whole of life. The bleakness of the earth sometimes serves only to turn our thoughts to what has been bleak and bitter in our own lives.

Yet God has overturned all that. Through the coming of His Son into the world He has drawn us to the Light that commands our worship. God the Son has come; and God the Son overturns darkness and bleakness and bitterness. Darkness has not overcome the Light. Not the death of the earth in winter nor the death inherent in all created things can stop the Life that is in the Son and in the Spirit of God Who dwells in all who believe in Jesus Christ.

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