So that Christmas tree that we cut down from the forest back in December sat in our living room much longer than Christmas lasted. I didn’t want to take it down, to get rid of the light’s soft glow that greeted me in the dark mornings, I didn’t want to lose the fragrance of its fresh pine needles that exuded merriment and festivities and the sense that all was calm and bright with just one waft. But when Valentines came and I strung up a red banner it was time to let Christmas go and move on.
Why does Christmas come at the cusp of this dark and cold season? The snow that was once was magical becomes a foe as the bleak days drag on for months. Walking in a Winter Wonderland hasn’t been heard on the radio for months. The joy we celebrated at the coming of the Christ-child seems to be mocked as we walk through the coldest months of the year. The light that shined so bright as we lit candles and gathered at the manger fades as our world gets increasingly darker the closer we get to Good Friday. The gap between Christmas and Easter stretches on for miles.
When Christmas day arrived we jumped out of bed and showered each other with presents and sang boldly, Christ has come, God is with us! Everywhere we looked we saw signs of this glorious news.
But when that tree was cut into a dozen pieces and stuffed into the trash can, and I looked ahead at the days of winter that stretched ahead endlessly, that hope of Christmas seemed to dissipate. Now isn’t the season of cheer and good will. Now is the time of less and of wanting and of penance. Sorrow streaks these winter months and we shoulder our burdens squarely across tired shoulders and trudge forward.
Left beside our couch is a remnant of Christmas. But instead of a tree sparkling with lights we now look daily at a cross. Formed out of the branches that once spoke hope to a world in need of a savior is a cross – a reminder of the reality and brutality of that Savior’s death. We no longer are stringing lights along the sides of houses and decorating sugar cookies with red and green. Instead we are sloughing through the trenches of everyday life, bewildered at the messiness around us. But the message of Christmas has not vanished. It grows stronger with every day. God is with us. God is with us. God. Is. With. Us. We don’t anticipate the mere coming of Christ in this season, He is already here. We don’t have to wait any longer for him to arrive and begin the work of redemption in this broken, bleak world. He is present, now, restoring and reshaping us as we walk through these heavy days of late winter.
We live in a gloriously messy, painfully beautiful, already-but not yet world. Already Christ has come, already he is here, already we are being redeemed. But not yet do we get to know him completely, not yet do we see his work clearly, not yet is His Kingdom fully expressed. And when children die and teenagers suffer and adults stumble and the whole world seems to be ripping apart, the “not yet” part seems sharply poignant.
It snowed yesterday. I woke up to a world frosted over in white powder. And now the skies are blue and though the wind blows it is whispering of something to come. Green shoots are poking through hardened grounds and yet I still move slowly to avoid slipping on patches of ice. Icicles hang off our roof while birds sing merrily above it. Already spring is here, but not yet is spring here.
Maybe that is why these days seem so heavy. We are living in a broken world juxtaposed against a redeemed one. We are breathing through weary bodies that are at the exact moment being made new. We are sorting through the fragments of our hearts that make up our whole selves. I have a Christmas tree and a cross in the same room. The same tree that proclaims life also bears death.
And through it all, broken or healed, fragmented or whole, weary or vitalized, dead or alive, through it all – the refrain remains the same.
God is with us. God is with us. God. Is. With. Us.
The Lord is with me, I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me? The Lord is with me, he is my helper. I look in triumph on my enemies.