Christmas—the Interrupter of Winter
The month of December can feel magical. Strings of lights appear in our yards, twinkling in the darkness; trees light up our houses; our favorite Christmas songs play everywhere in the background; Christmas cookies bake in the oven; people host parties and buy gifts; and everyone is filled with a desire to give to others and care for those in need. It can feel like such a season of hope, of things made beautiful, of people coming together in oneness and joy, and of the needy being cared for.
It is lovely and yet, a bit devastating—especially as you get older—to realize just how quickly the season passes and how long it takes to come back round again. You know that for every twinkly light and caroler, there will be a bag of used wrapping paper and a mostly dead tree left the day after Christmas; and you will feel sad and let down, because just like that, it's gone again, over once more. Maybe you'll keep playing Christmas music in an attempt to keep the spirit going; but eventually, the Christmas cookies will be stale, no one will want to watch It's a Wonderful Life again, and you'll pack everything all up for next December.
It's depressing when Christmas feels like the end—the end of the year, the season, the holiday spirit, the Christmas trees, family being together, and those beautiful twinkly lights. I've been struggling the last few years with this sense of being let down by Christmas. Everything I'm looking forward to enjoying is heaped up into a few short, extremely busy weeks—maybe into the one day of Christmas itself—and then it's over and done, and I'm left disappointed.
A Better Perspective about Christmas
As Christmas approaches this year, I've been reflecting on the fact that I might be thinking about Christmas from the wrong perspective. As much as it feels like it, Christmas is not the end. It is the beginning! I don't mean the beginning of the new year or the beginning of our better selves, but the beginning of real hope.
There's a beautiful passage in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis that has illustrated this for me. The curse the White Witch places on the country of Narnia is that it would be "always winter and never Christmas." But after all four children in the story have made their way into this other world, hope awakens. Father Christmas appears! The significance of this is declared by Father Christmas, himself: “‘I've come at last,” said he. “She has kept me out for a long time, but I have got in at last. Aslan is on the move. The Witch's magic is weakening.’” Christmas signals Aslan's return and the weakening of the Witch's dark magic. Christmas stirs hope. The festivities that the animals experience speak to the hope they feel for the end of winter and perhaps an appearance of Aslan.
Christmas—the Interrupter of Winter
There is a very real sense in which Christmas is the interrupter of winter. It enters the bleakness and brings celebration. It brings hope for new beginnings, hope for an appearance of a savior. Just as the Israelites endured a long winter of exile, waiting, longing for the appearance of a Promised One, a joy that at times did not seem possible, we too are waiting, exiled in this winter of a world which is not our true home. We are waiting for something better, something that at times seems so far off and so distant that we're not sure it will ever break through. The pain, the loss, the sadness, the suffering of today feels much stronger, much more real. Today, every one of us has something that we're grieving, someone we're missing, fears we're carrying, hurt we're feeling, and it really seems like there's no way out. The winter of all of that brokenness does not seem to have an end. But Christmas interrupts the winter and reminds us of what came and of what we are still waiting for.
We remember the arrival or "advent" of Christ thousands of years ago, and it's beautiful because he came into a hopeless, lost world and gave it a new beginning. The Savior entered our story and gave himself so we could have a new story. As we round the corner of Christmas and all the lights are packed away, it's tempting to think it's over. But Christmas is not the end. As we're celebrating Christ's birth, we're walking right into a time of remembering his life and death and resurrection. Christmas begins this period of remembrance and also reminds us that we're waiting for another advent—the second one.
Christ came to give hope to a broken world, but that hope is not yet fully realized. We are waiting in a time of exile, like the Israelites, for another arrival to interrupt the winter. Christmas is just the beginning. As I put away the Advent calendar and take down the ornaments, that's what I'll be reminding myself of this year. Not that it's all done, but that it's begun. He has come! The world has been changed by his arrival, and he will come again. It will not always be winter.