Theology 101

Why We Can Celebrate Christmas in the Middle of Our Spiritual Winter

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My least favorite day of the year is a Sunday in November—the end of daylight savings time, the day we “fall back” an hour. Suddenly, it’s dark all the time. We’re rushed from the long, warm summer nights into the short, dark winter days.

I saw a meme recently that said, “Midwesterners always say when it’s single digits outside: ‘It’s not really the cold that is unbearable, it’s the wind!’” Well, I’d say, “It’s not really the cold, it’s the darkness!”

That’s the worst part of winter for me, the darkness. It’s dark when you go to work in the morning, it’s dark when you go home at night. It’s dark when you’re trying to do things with friends or get together with family.

We all intuitively know things about darkness. Darkness pushes us together, towards other people. It causes us to cling more tightly to important relationships. When we think about winter and darkness, we often think about the time spent caring for our loved ones, and the care they’ve given us over the years. These times push the darkness away; they bring the light to our lives.

One picture of winter that many of us carry in our minds is the land of Narnia in C.S. Lewis’s The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe. Under the rule of the White Witch, it was “always winter, but never Christmas.”

Regular IFWE blog readers will know that though Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien were good friends, they had an ongoing disagreement about how allegories should work in their stories. Tolkien would build his fantasy worlds complete with languages and histories, and while he used allegories, you usually had to dig a little deeper to uncover what they were.

Lewis didn’t care about all that. If he wanted Santa to show up in the middle of Narnia, in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, to give swords to children as an allegory demonstrating God’s power over darkness, he was going to do it!

Why does the depiction of winter and darkness work so well in Lewis’s story? Why do we as Christians feel the tension with darkness? The answers can be found in scripture where we learn about the way the world works, the way that we are.

God’s Story of Dispelling the Darkness

Hugh Whelchel has described this as a story or a narrative that God Almighty is telling throughout history. I’ve found the following explanation of the four-chapter gospel by Whelchel to be a helpful way to remember the four major acts or chapters of the story:

Creation: The way things were.
Fall: The way things are.
Redemption: The way things could be.
Restoration: The way things will be.

When we look at the creation story in Genesis 1-2, we see that the world was created in a time of abundance, like summer. Plants were producing fruit for Adam and Eve to enjoy. Everything was very much alive.

But after this summer, came fall. The Fall.

Things that were so easy before became harder. The things that were so alive before began to die. Bounty turned to scarcity. Adam and Eve needed coverings against the cold and their shame.

When the world got spiritually darker and humanity needed strong relationships, those relationships broke down. According to scholars Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert, the four fundamental relationships that broke were our relationship with nature, with each other, with ourselves, and most importantly, with God. As the darkness crept in during the Fall, we were desperately in need, but we were the problem and were utterly incapable of helping ourselves.

And then, when it all looked dead, when darkness appeared to be at its fullest, when death seemed to be winning over the world, Christmas came. Jesus came.

Now, yes, Jesus was probably not born on December 25th, or in winter for that matter. And there are other historical and cultural reasons why we celebrate Christmas on December 25th. But what an appropriate time to celebrate Christ’s coming when the days are shortest and the darkness is longest and weighs heaviest.

Easter wouldn’t be possible without Christmas. The resurrection and ascension wouldn’t happen without the incarnation. Political scientist Don Devine writes on the contribution of Christian thought to the American constitution, saying “Christianity, however, rests on the claimed reality of a single event, the Incarnation, the assertion that God entered human existence to change it.” Devine argues that “Whatever the explanation, freedom entered history in a dramatic way following this event, causing an enduring tension between liberty and order, state and church, love and power, and all the rest.”

Christians can have hope amidst the darkness because we know that Jesus has already come in the dead of our winter to point us toward spring. It’s the last chapter of the four-chapter gospel when things are regenerated, when our world is restored, and when Christ makes all things new. That is what we have to look forward to.

What does this all mean, especially for those of us in the midst of our careers?

So, I have good news and bad news. Bad news first: until, and unless, Christ returns, we will live and work our entire lives in the season of winter—in darkness—waiting with hope for Christ’s return.

And this means things will be hard. We aren’t guaranteed an easy life. We do live in a fallen world where work is difficult. But we don’t live in a world like Narnia, where it is always winter and never Christmas. We live in a world where Christ has come, and we are waiting for spring.

An interesting thing about winter is that much goes on in the snowy darkness that gives birth to spring. Snow that falls in winter helps to fill the water table and give life to plants. The leaves that die and fall rot under the snow in winter, returning important nutrients to the soil. The nuts that the squirrels bury in fall and lose in winter stay deep in the dirt ready to germinate in the spring.

And slowly, the light grows longer each day. Minute by minute, there is more light until that glorious spring Sunday when we “spring forward” an hour and get our daylight back.

You might have thought that I was going to say Easter. And again, the timing of that church holiday is appropriate. The beginning of daylight savings time and Easter are usually within a few weeks of each other. Spring is the season when we celebrate light conquering darkness, and ask death, “where is your sting?”

And this is the good news, the gospel. Restoration is coming, spring is coming, Christ has guaranteed that. And what we’re doing here in winter being “salt and light” in a dark world prepares us, and the world around us, for spring.

Editor’s note: Learn more about how we can participate in God’s good work of restoring and reconciling the world to himself in All Things New: Rediscovering the Four-Chapter Gospel

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