Before our Christmas traditions took hold, there were other festivals in the northern hemisphere among folks who were tucked in for winter. The crops had been harvested and stored, the work was done, and they celebrated… But in one of the pieces I read this advent from a writer named Gayle Boss, I was a reminded about a truth in those celebrations: “No matter how glad the party, they couldn’t keep from glancing at the sky… Each day throughout the fall they watched the light dwindle, felt the warmth weaken. It made them anxious, edgy… When they had eaten up the crop they were fasting on, how would another crop grow? Throughout December, as the sun sank and sank to its lowest point on their horizon, they felt the shadow of primal fear – fear for survival – crouching over them.”
I don’t know if there are any Game of Thrones fans here this morning, but one of the mottos of one of these houses is “Winter is Coming.”
It is a reminder that dark and difficult times are ahead. It is an echo of that primal fear of a long winter. It is the sentiment that says nothing good happens after midnight.
It is the dread that overcame the people of Narnia as the White Witch took over power. Her cold power overwhelmed the land and even her touch would turn people to ice and stone.
The land of Narnia came to be known as the place where it was always winter, but never Christmas.
And in that place, hope can be hard to find. Anxiety grows. Fears are plenty.
The people of Narnia thought that winter might last forever. Many thought they would never see Christmas.
And yet some clung to the promises, the hopes, the prophecies to sustain them through the long, dark, cold nights.
Folks like Mr. and Mrs. Beaver waited, they longed, they believed that Aslan would return to Narnia and that four children would sit on the throne and bring a reign of peace.
What I love about the “Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” is that there are glimpses of the end of the witches power… the end of winter… long before Aslan ever appears in the story.
The hospitality of even enemies like Mr. Tumnus.
The snow begins to thaw.
Flowers start to bloom.
Father Christmas shows up to equip the children with the tools they will need in the upcoming battle.
Aslan is near and winter is already disappearing.
A few days ago, the season of winter technically began in our part of the world. The winter solstice marks the turning of the seasons and on that longest night, that darkest day, winter began.
And you know, it was in the dark… At about midnight last night… or this morning… whichever you want to call it, that our Christmas Eve service wrapped up.
And in the darkness, in the quiet stillness, in the bleak midwinter, something amazing happened.
We welcomed Jesus into our lives.
We proclaimed Hallelujah and celebrated the good news of Jesus birth.
In that hour and season that represents the height of our fears, where nothing good is supposed to happen.
My colleague Melissa Meyers wrote last night about that phrase, but then she went on to list all sorts of blessings of midnight:
“Midnight is pregnant with possibilities… just waiting to be birthed…
Midnight gives you a chance to start over …
Midnight gives you an opportunity to forgive that person who has wronged you…
Midnight gives you the opportunity to ask for forgiveness…
Midnight gives you the possibility of something new…
Midnight is not the darkness, but a reminder that the dark doesn’t last forever”
Midnight is not the darkness, but a reminder that the dark doesn’t last forever.
And it’s not only midnight… it is right now, in this cold, dark, time when everything else is stripped away and seems lost and full of fear that we actual glimpse the most profound sign of hope .
That longest night of the year… this season of cold and reflection and barren earth… it is not the darkness either, but a reminder that the dark will not last forever.
It is in that amazing moment when all seems the darkest, the coldest, the loneliest, that God creeps into our lives, our world, our hearts.
The beginning of the winter season is actually the moment when the light begins to return to the sky.
It is the moment the days grow longer.
Gayle Boss reflects upon this, she notes that “to their and our abiding fear of a dark ending, the Church spoke of an advents: a coming. Faith proclaimed, When life as we know it goes, this year and at the end of all years, One comes, and comes bringing a new beginning.”
Every midnight is a new beginning.
Every year end is a new beginning.
Every time winter begins with the solstice and the longest night, the reality is that the days are already growing longer.
Winter is not coming.
Winter is already over.
The power of cold and death and barrenness cannot remain.
The White Witch is defeated before the battle has even begun in the land of Narnia.
Heidi Haverkamp writes in the reflections we have been reading this Advent and Christmas season that the power of the White Witch was “foiled by the faith and perseverance of a group of otherwise small and humble creatures who have been surviving under her tyranny… Their watching and waiting have prepared the way for Aslan’s coming.”
Today, we proclaim that God has come near.
We celebrate that the Christ Child has entered our human lives to wipe away the despair and fear, the hatred and sin.
But like those people of Narnia… although we know that winter is already over… although we know that in God’s time the powers of this world have already been defeated… still the final battle has yet to be fought.
We wait… still.
We hope… still.
We long… still.
Waiting for the final victory of Jesus. Waiting for the second coming of our Lord.
And living every single day as if the powers of this world cannot hold our hearts.
As Melissa Meyers wrote in the wee hours of the night:
“Midnight is not the end of the story, but only the beginning…
Midnight invites you into the story of resistance, subversion, radical inclusion, and peace…
Midnight brings us a thrill of hope as the weary world rejoices…
Midnight births a King of Kings that changes the world in ways that we continue to discover…
Midnight brings to us the King of Kings, Lord of Lords, Prince of Peace, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Emmanuel… “
Thanks be to God.