Piercing the Winter of History

When it comes to winter, I am kind of a wimp. If you ask my husband, he thinks I’m not just “kind of” a wimp, but a huge one. Raised in the South, I was not bred to endure Chicago winters and I have made that fact known to him. Just to give you a taste of my maladjustment, I have a white noise setting on my alarm clock that sounds like chirping birds, and last winter I would turn it on, sit by a sunny window, close my eyes, and pretend it was springtime and I was somewhere else. I’m not kidding, there were some weeks when I literally did that every day.

Contrary to popular belief, what makes the winters hard is not the cold. Yes, it gets bitterly cold, but you can stay inside by a warm fire with a couple layers of long johns on to keep you nice and toasty. No, what gets you is the length of the winters. Come April when the rest of the country is emerging into spring, it’s still ridiculously cold here. In fact, it doesn’t really warm up–not really–until mid to late June. JUNE!

In addition to the long winters, the days become very short. There are days when the sun goes down around 4:30. Between the extended cold and the shortened daylight, I get pretty grumpy and maybe a little dramatic about how much I dislike the winters here.

This year marks my third Chicago winter, and the days are becoming shorter again as we approach the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year. As usual, I am fighting the on-coming season like a toddler throwing a tantrum. However, I have also noticed a new perspective cropping up in my mind, a more hopeful one.

The Winter Solstice is typically around December 21, just before Christmas. Although Jesus was not born on December 25th, the Winter Solstice has been celebrated by numerous pagan cultures throughout time, and it was eventually Christianized to celebrate Jesus’ birth. No one knows exactly what time of year Jesus was born, and scholars have debated it for centuries, but I really appreciate the fact that we celebrate Christmas when we do.

You see Christmas, a day in which we remember God’s light coming into the world, occurs during the darkest time of the year. Although the date we celebrate Christmas is somewhat arbitrary (if not historically inaccurate), the winter season of Advent is a fitting mirror for the birth of Christ. The world grew darker, God’s people feared they had been forsaken, and all hope seemed lost. Then, at the darkest moment, a light broke into the winter of history in the form of a tiny child.

Although the days before Christmas are typically celebratory and joyful as we anticipate Christ’s birth, the Advent season is more accurately reflected in the winter weather–it is somber and dark. The Savior is coming, but he has not yet arrived. There is both excitement and a heavy, laborious yearning. That in-betweenness is both the character of Advent as well the Christian faith. We live in the already-but-not-yet of God’s work in the world. We wait for Christ’s return with excitement, but there can be great pain in the waiting.

For some of you, that is where you are this year. Your life is like Advent, and the shortening winter days are a reminder of the ever-increasing darkness in your life. If that’s you, then remember this: The darkness will not increase forever. In the coming month the days will get shorter and the darkness will grow, but only as we draw nearer to God’s in-breaking brilliance. It was in history’s darkest hour that God came near, and He continues to do the same today.

On these dreary winter days that I dislike so much, Advent is a redemptive perspective. As much as I don’t like the winter, I am grateful that the dark days of Advent are here, pointing me towards the coming light of a holy child, Jesus Christ.

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.

- Isaiah 9:2