The flip side to my Advent musings about the function of winter in our lives is that winter doesn’t just come, it stays. (Thanks to my friend Stephanie for bringing up the sentiment in a comment… and for tonight’s snow flurries on my greenhouse to confirm it.)
Ok, in my corner of Virginia, winter doesn’t stay long, nor is it as obnoxious a guest as it is in Wisconsin, where I grew up. I walked to school, every day, fifth grade through twelfth. I clearly remember the slush, ice, snow, and bitter cold temperatures. Moisture from my breath frozen on my scarf. Contact lenses sticking from the cold. Nose hairs prickling with the cold. Walking to school in the dark and then walking home in the dark.
Winter is nice, for a while. But it stays.
Christmas comes at the darkest point in the year. The Romans had a feast to the Invincible Sun at the winter solstice, celebrating the light coming back into the world. The Chinese have the optimistically named “Spring Festival”, aka Lunar New Year… in January or February. Many cultures have festivals on the winter solstice. We have a natural inclination to want to celebrate the beginning of the end of the dark of winter.
But there’s a whole lot of winter left after the victory of Christmas. The Light is coming back into the darkened world, but the warmth and life are slow to follow. There is a lot of chill to disperse.
Seasons lag. The fact that the earth has passed the solstice means that daylight will last progressively longer, every day, for the next six months, until the summer solstice. It does not mean that the temperatures immediately follow suit. There is an awful lot of cold to survive before spring. In previous centuries (and even in some areas today), many people who celebrated Christmas would starve or succumb to cold-exacerbated maladies before spring.
Salvation, in some sense, lags, too.
What did the shepherds think? After that incredible night, angels singing in the dark skies, the child, the wonder… and then comes the slaughter of all the baby boys in Bethlehem.
After Jesus’ Resurrection, the persecutions started. Thousands converted, but Stephen was stoned. Many others would follow. Saul was apparently fairly successful at arresting Christians before he was knocked off his horse and converted… and as Paul, he wound up executed in Rome, as was St. Peter. The only one of the eleven faithful apostles who wasn’t martyred was St. John… who was exiled to Patmos, which wasn’t exactly a good thing. Due to persecutions, Christians scattered all over the Roman Empire, where they often perished in local persecutions.
What happened to the victory? Jesus, the Light, had come into the world… and this is what happens?
Winter gets deeper after the “light comes back into the world.” The cold increases and settles in harder. The evil wins so many battles. The advance of Christianity seems so tenuous at times: Europe, with much martyrs’ blood, was converted… then was overrun by barbarians… then was reconverted by missionaries from Ireland… and is losing its faith again to chase money, or freedom, or something, anything that isn’t Christ. Almost all of the major historic Christian sees (biships’ seats: Antioch, Jerusalem, St. Augustine’s Hippo, Constantinople) have been overrun by Islam. The “reasonable”, “advanced” 20th century brims with Christian martyrs, thanks to the totalitarian regimes: communist Spain, Nazi Germany, communist Russia, communist China, and all the others.
When we can’t see it, when it snows in March in southeast Virginia, when Christians are massacred and almost nobody notices in India or China or wherever, when Europe loses its faith in Christ and the future and ceases to have children.
Victory is coming. Slowly, inexorably, like spring. When it doesn’t show, when it doesn’t look like it, even when it looks like things are speeding away from spring and Christ’s victory.
When we have nothing but faith that says it’s true, because everything else we see in the world says it’s false.
Even though winter outstays its welcome, Victory is coming.