“Many human beings say that they enjoy the winter, but what they really enjoy is feeling proof against it. For them there is no winter food problem. They have fires and warm clothes. The winter cannot hurt them and therefore increases their sense of cleverness and security. For birds and animals, as for poor men, winter is another matter. Rabbits, like most wild animals, suffer hardship. ”
Watership Down by Richard Adams
Snow may be a fair metaphor for the challenges in our lives. Whether physical, mental, spiritual, emotional, financial… they are the circumstances we find ourselves in that threaten our well-being. Snow was aptly used to illustrate the plight of the Narnians in “The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe”. In their never-ending winter, what would they long for that the Witch deprived their land of? What could make the snow something that could be received with acceptance and even… joy? “Always winter… but never Christmas.” Christmastime. Father Christmas himself was banished from Narnia and unable to reenter while the Witches’ power was the dominant force in the land. But when Aslan returned, the snow began to melt and the animals remembered to make merry again, even though the Witch was still on her throne.
The simple magic of Christmas is not necessarily the chosen date, but it is anytime where we stop and defy the powers of evil by choosing to make merry. At the darkest time of the year we deck our houses with strings of lights and candles. When all nature seems to be dying, we bring in trees that are ‘ever green’ and bedeck them with colors. When the elements cause our human nature to cry out for self-preservation, we instead wrap presents in joyful paper for others and place them lovingly under a tree. We gather with family, yes even those we sometimes distance ourselves from otherwise. Our political differences don’t seem to seem as contentious, our desire to love our fellow man tends to increase and our delight at things, even snow, may become something we can “consider it all joy”.
We know Christmas itself can also be a challenging time. For those of us who have seen loss and death, it can almost feel wrong to celebrate Christmas as before. A feeling of triviality tinging each jaunty carol and highlighting the hollowness in each commercial for giant red bow adorned mid-sized sedans. Perhaps, for ourselves, when Christmas loses its place in our hearts, it isn’t Christmas we’ve lost a love for, but rather the trappings of sentiment and superficiality. It does us well to remember, as the Grinch observed, “Maybe Christmas doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas… means a little bit more”. In Narnia, just as it is on this side of the wardrobe, Christmas is an act of war. To make merry is to wield a sword against the darkness and despair that seeks to claim our very souls. Christmas carols are a battle anthem declaring there is light and high beauty forever beyond the reach of the Darkness. And what’s more, Jesus Christ, Son of God, Emmanuel has come. God is with us in our pain. God, in all His resplendent beauty, took on the lowly nature of man, wore skin and wrapped bone in muscle, nerves and blood vessels. The Creator of the Universe suffered a digestive system and had to endure the limits of the human brain… And He did all this to be with us. To love us. To restore us. Christmas reminds us that we are not alone, we do not suffer alone, we do not pray to a God who is unfamiliar with our grief but has lived it. And those that suffer at Christmas time with the memory of a loss or the ache of an empty space at the table need to remember that most of all. For all of us, making merry is vital.
“I do not think that the life of Heaven bears any analogy to play or dance in respect of frivolity. I do think that while we are in this ‘valley of tears,’ cursed with labour, hemmed round with necessities, tripped up with frustrations, doomed to perpetual plannings, puzzlings, and anxieties, certain qualities that must belong to the celestial condition have no chance to get through, can project no image of themselves, except in activities which, for us here and now, are frivolous.
… No, Malcolm. It is only in our ‘hours-off,’ only in our moments of permitted festivity, that we find an analogy. Dance and game are frivolous, unimportant down here; for ‘down here’ is not their natural place. Here, they are a moment’s rest from the life we were place here to live. But in this world everything is upside down. That which, if it could be prolonged here, would be a truancy, is likest that which in a better country is the End of ends. Joy is the serious business of Heaven.
– C.S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer
One cannot help but recall Paul and Silas, beaten for their beliefs and their ministry to others, wrongfully imprisoned, in painful stocks and chains, and awaiting perhaps death. Yet from their prison cell these men were singing. Were these joyful anthems of defiance? Or were they muttering children’s songs, maybe the only things they could remember in such a time of pain and fear? Perhaps one grew into the other, giving them strength to endure. And when the prison shook from an earthquake and the doors flew open and the stocks broke, freeing the two, they were able to hold onto their sense of purpose and service to the High King and to the prison guard himself. Perhaps because singing helped them endure their pain, reminded them of what was true and gave them a context of joy, when they had an opportunity to be released, they chose to stay!
We have learned how to live in snow. How to play. We find ways to see the beauty in the season and to make the most in it. We build snow men and angels, we go sledding, we have snowball fights and we have Christmas. We give snow a context by which we can navigate it well. We build up infrastructure to protect the vulnerable parts of us as we can, and we sing carols into the night and put ice-melt on our sidewalks and little boys find creative but improper ways to write their names in the snow. Though winter is death for many things, we have chosen to make life even there. We choose to sing in the prison of the cold. We choose to give our suffering meaning, context and to proceed with joy. We remember the one who joins us in our struggles, and we make merry. Making merry is something we must choose to do. We must MAKE merry. We must, as Scripture tells us, “…fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” We must craft our merriment with purpose. We must make merry in December because the winter is cold. We must make merry in July when we lose our job. We must make merry in the fall when the heath diagnosis is concerning. We must make merry in the spring when a loved one betrays us. We need the merriment Christmastime brings year-round. We need to be reminded that Emmanuel, God is with us in every snowstorm we will face in any season.
What fills your heart with ‘the spirit of the season’? What could be your wardrobe, your common item that transports you out of your present difficulties and into the embrace of Christmas? Something that you can put in your wallet or purse or hang from your rear-view mirror or place on your desk. Something that smells of cookies or of peppermint or spiced cider. A painting or a snip of an old scarf or even something as simple as playing Christmas music on your phone. Something that puts you in the ‘Christmas Spirit’ regardless of the calendar date, and what current darkness the world around you seems to declare. Any day is a fitting day and any circumstance is a necessary one to make merry, especially if it does not seem ‘natural’ to do so. To choose to defy the darkness and to declare the victory of the light, is the truer, more eternally natural thing, regardless of what is covering our mortal eyes.
“O Come O Come Emmanuel” is a well known carol but it’s roots are ancient and, unlike many other songs of the season, it is in some ways a lament. Imploring the Almighty of our desperate need for Him. And yet, as the singer pleads for the nearness of their Father, and thereby acknowledging that He does not feel near now, they sing “Rejoice! Rejoice!” This is even beautiful when sung softly, like the whispering, wounded but chosen anthem of the heart. “Emmanuel shall come to the o Israel”. Christmastime is not a naïve sticking our fingers in our ears and ignoring the pains of the world and our own hearts, but rather a recognition that as sad as things get, and oh we certainly will mourn, they are not the final word. The Christmas star shines high above to remind us that we are not alone and in the end, in light of eternity and the love of the Father, the darkness will be shown to be a small and passing thing. That is not to diminish the reality of our loss and pain, but to extol the glory of the All Great God and His matchless love for us.
It’s ok if the normal “Christmas” trappings don’t work for you. But find what does. “Let every heart prepare Him room.” If you are healthy, take time to stock up joyful provisions for when you are not. If you are facing the winter of your soul, hold on. Spring exists, the sun is real, Aslan is on the move and if you listen very carefully, you just might hear sleigh bells ring. Let us make this time and every time of year one where we can set aside a moment to breath and to pray and to recommit ourselves to the serious business of Heaven.
Let it snow. Let it snow. …let it snow!
The exquisite featured image is from Julie Jablonski and used with her generous permission for The Cultivating Project.
Adam is a vagabond of the arts. He is an animator by training, a media specialist by vocation, a church arts project coordinator by choice and a writer by hobby. Though he “still hasn’t found what he’s looking for”, in his wandering through the arts he has found the firm conviction that God has been writing His story through our stories since the beginning, and He’s not done yet. Adam is also a contributor to the ministry “God Thru the Arts” and is slowly working at his own passion project “The Witness Cloud” – which explores the stories of those listed in Hebrews 11, and seeks to find the “True Myths” that also point to God through the human journey using the arts. Adam and his wife Sarah have 3 children and live in Northern Colorado. His artistic interests range from G.K. Chesterton to Looney Tunes. Follow Adam on Instagram here.