First Day of Winter

Winter is not my favorite season. It’s not even second or third on my list. The early arrival of snow, ice, and polar temperatures to southern Indiana has done nothing to endear this season to me. Winter boots, mittens, and snow pants mysteriously multiply and fill the entry hall, the mud room, and in front of the wood stove. Driving to town from our rural home becomes an extra challenge, and sometimes downright impossible in anything but Tim’s 4-wheel drive pickup. Just keeping warm takes on extra work as we try to keep the stove fed and happy. And then there is the depressing lack of light which adds to the confined, closed in feeling of this dark time of year. Winter seems to be a season to battle with, a time of struggle.

Nonetheless, on those days that I have eyes to see, winter walks, especially when snow covers the ground, are some of the best ones of the year. I’m even looking forward to deeper snow so I can pull out the ancient cross country skis that reside in our garage and glide around the fields. During the warmer months I hit the pavement on my trusty pink mountain bike or do some power walking, but with snow, I head for the trails that weave in and out of the woods and fields of our farm. Strangely, with the muting of the landscape to a nearly monochromatic palette, the farm takes on a new beauty. I love the gray and white of the sycamores that run along the creek at the bottom of our meadow, the skeletal remains of old Queen Anne’s lace flowers, and the gray, overcast southern Indiana winter skies which so perfectly match the subdued colors of snowy fields and trees. Against this drabness any color shows that much brighter, whether it is from a lonely cedar tree or a pileated woodpecker.

Often while tromping through the woods I like to stop and look for infant buds on twigs. It seems crazy, but already, here at the start of the winter, even while they sleep God is preparing trees to awaken with a hurrah come spring. Buds, like seeds, hold tiny embryos, sleeping until their period of dormancy is up. According to the University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension, abscisic acid acts as a growth inhibitor in both seeds and buds. As spring nears the concentration of this hormone dwindles, and the baby plants or buds burst forth. That's why an early or mid-winter thaw doesn't usually hurt trees near as much a late winter thaw when the tree is fooled into blossoming too soon. Whatever the mechanism, watching these buds through the winter gives me encouragement. Yes - it is winter, with all that means, but take heart - spring is coming!

I think it is perfectly fitting that we celebrate the coming to earth of the Lord of Lords and Light of Light at this, the darkest time of the year. Winter, that season of darkness and extra physical difficulties, is an apt picture of the desperate sin and suffering that fill the world, the world that God loved so much He sent forth His only Son to redeem a people for Himself. Jesus came to the world the first time, whether it was actually in winter or not, in humble circumstances. Few knew who He really was at His birth. But when He returns, it will be in power and glory. Winter is still here, but spring is coming!

You're probably familiar with the last stanza of Christian Rossetti's poem, "In the Bleak Midwinter", but here's the full text. I especially like the second stanza.

In the Bleak Midwinter

Christina Rossetti (1872)  

In the bleak mid-winter
Frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak mid-winter
Long ago.

Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him
Nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away
When He comes to reign:
In the bleak mid-winter
A stable-place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty,
Jesus Christ.

Enough for Him, whom cherubim
Worship night and day,
A breastful of milk
And a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him, whom angels
Fall down before,
The ox and ass and camel
Which adore.

Angels and archangels
May have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim
Thronged the air,
But only His mother
In her maiden bliss,
Worshiped the Beloved
With a kiss.

What can I give Him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd
I would bring a lamb,
If I were a wise man
I would do my part,
Yet what I can I give Him,
Give my heart.


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