Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Advent snows

This is a piece written for the Staffordshire Sentinel and due to appear in the paper on Wednesday December 1st. 

Sacred Heart, Hanley 27 Nov at 8am
What is it about snow? 
Yes, we know it causes inconvenience and hassle. It closes schools and business, blocks roads, and makes travel precarious, even dangerous. Snow disrupts our routine, plays havoc with our appointments. 
But we can't despise it. We have to admit: it is so beautiful. 
It veils the bare trees, stripped of their leaves, and gives them dignity and beauty again. It rests on roof tops and fences, dusting them with sugar from the sky. It dampens sound and gives the busy city streets a calm and peace they rarely have. 
And as the days grow short and the light is dim, with its bright whiteness it magnifies the weak light of winter. It makes ordinary scenes enchanting, and fine landscapes stunning. It conceals some features, but it also reveals their beauty. 
Yet it is only here for a short time. Here, snow visits us generally for a few days, a couple of weeks at most, and often just a few hours, intruding into the day. Of course, there are places, more familiar with its winter visitation, where it lasts for many weeks, but even then it is seasonal, rarely permanent, soon moved by the spring thaws and the warming sun of the longer days. Like the snowman in Raymond Brigg's cartoon, it provides a short moment of magic, but may be gone in the morning. 
Yet for all this, it provides us with glorious scenes in drab days. It lights up dark mornings and refracts the light of the early setting sun. It brings joy and jollity in dim and depressing days. The fall and dusting of the snow reminds us that in the middle of the night there will be a dawn. In the midst of a bleak cold winter, there is beauty. In the midst of hardship, they may be hope. Snow provides a temporary beauty, but it hints at a permanent one. 
And so it is with the Christian Season of  Advent, which began last weekend. It is a time of looking forward, of excitement and anticipation through the darkness of winter to the light of Christmas, and the longer days which follow. As the Churches prepare for the celebration of Christ's birth at Christmas, they are also expressing a belief in something much more far reaching, much deeper, and more permanent. 
Sometimes, and for some people, life may seem like an eternal winter - like the people of Narnia in CS Lewis' The Lion, the Witch and the Warderobe, a place where it is 'always winter but never Christmas'. 
We sit not only in the darkness of winter, but also in the darkness of economic trouble, the darkness of anxiety, the darkness of doubt, the darkness of bereavement and loss. We look, as  St Paul  says,  in a mirror darkly at our lives and the world around us. 
And the lights of Advent, and the snows of winter, give us a hint of hope, of an end to sorrow and separation, of an end to uncertainty.They promise to us the fullness of life - not only of the life of a new born child celebrated in song and generosity - but also of the life of a Light which is never dimmed or obscured, a beauty which never thaws nor melts away, but which lasts for ever. 

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