I’ve always had a conflicted relationship with the seasons. My mood often decides to be dictated by the skies, taking on whatever cast of gray is currently favored in the colder months. But I also love the depth they bring to the scene of life through their changes, our attention is called to details because the change forces us to take notice. Like Steinbeck says,
What good is the warmth of summer without the cold of winter to give it sweetness?
We notice the first crocuses of spring precisely because they were not there in those long winter months.
I think perhaps the seasons are God’s way of capturing our attention. And although the dates of Advent and Christmas were chosen as a redemptive act on pagan celebrations, I think their placement on modern calendars is a blessing, particularly for those of us who enter the Advent season under gray skies and freezing temperatures. The stunning beauty of autumn has left us, all those once-radiant leaves have fallen, browned and soggy, and we’ve learned quite plainly that Robert Frost was right,
Nothing gold can stay.
We’re in the season of emptiness. Signs of life diminish as the birds have flown and other creatures hide themselves in sleep. Flowers have vanished and the trees stand naked. It feels as though my own soul mirrors this, exposed before God. The glittering promises of this world look dimmed, and that ache within me flares up, reminding me again that things are not as they should be, this is not my home.
And as I tread on what seems like only death and decay, bemoaning the barrenness and cold, I can’t help but think that God is saying, Remember Spring.
Every winter the orchard is flooded with snow, and every spring the waters are parted, death is undone, and every Lazerus rises.
Every single year God reminds us: though it looks as though darkness reigns and death is winning, beneath it all–unseen but powerful–life continues until the right moment when it will emerge triumphant and new.
This is the same promise we remember and look forward to in Advent. Advent means simply: waiting. We are waiting on God, and we are not the first to do so. In the first Advent the world waited in darkness. Hundreds of years passed with no prophet speaking, no promising Messiah emerging, until it seemed like God had forgotten. But light appeared, unceremoniously to the world, but gloriously to those who were expecting him. Like the emergence of crocuses in spring, hope broke through the cold darkness as a tiny babe broke into humanity. God did as he said.
In the Advent season we let a hush fall over our lives, we let ourselves feel the darkness of waiting, and we realize it doesn’t take a stretch of our imagination, we know what it feels like to wait for God.
Our waiting continues, we’re in between springs. We have the memory of Christ’s birth, and the promise of his return, and we wait in what feels like a forever-winter. Sometimes it seems like God has forgotten his promise to come back for us, to make all things new, and to finally make our hearts right and at home. But every Advent we remember: God doesn’t forget, he always does as he says, as surely as spring follows winter.
So we keep waiting even in this world where it feels like death is winning. We let ourselves feel the restlessness of our own hearts, because we know, just as Augustine knew,
Thou hast made us for Thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds rest in Thee.
And while we wait in longing for the eternal spring–when the light of the Son will never dim–we find comfort with the One on whom we wait looking forward to the day we will see him face-to-face, and trusting that he will do as he said. We have faith, knowing that he came once and he will surely come again.