1 Peter 1:3 - Believers begin a new life when they are born again by the Spirit
Out our way, though spring is months away, we enter into the new season of life at the end of January and into February. The cold gets greater, the nights seem darker, and the sunlight just isn't as strong. To the rest of the world it is the "dead of winter." But for the rancher and cowhand, it is the life of winter ... for it is calving season.
It will be months before the pastures are green and ice is melted - a long time before we will smell the sage, hear the meadowlarks, and watch the youngsters leaping and playing under the watchful eyes of their mamas. But this is where it all starts: in the darkest, coldest, deadest season of the year.
As many of you know, while we celebrate the birth of Christ on Dec. 25, we have no idea of when He was actually born. It was most likely in the spring. So why December? "The Winter Solstice" - the shortest day of the year. The pagans celebrated it because it marked the beginning of new life.
We all know that, out our way, the days grow shorter and the nights longer as winter takes over. But after the solstice, that is reversed. It is a slow process, but each day lasts a little longer and each night the darkness fades a little sooner. And so the ancients celebrated that time as the time when icy grip of death - represented by the cold and dark, began to retreat and the power of life - represented by the warmth and heat of day advanced.
Recall that most of the world - and especially the Roman Empire - saw the Christians as a threat and so persecuted the early church. Christians did not celebrate pagan festivals and so stood out. Thus, the church decided to "blend in" by celebrating Christ's birth at the same time. And theologically it made sense - for just as the solstice celebrated the coming of life and defeat of death, so the birth of Christ offered the same message, only on a vastly higher scale. In Christ, "the people who walked in darkness began to see a great Light," ( Isaiah 9:2 . Matthew 4:16, John 8:12, Acts 26:18). In the darkness, the Light shone.
The rancher and hand who drive out into the pastures during calving season at 3 a.m. experience the worst and darkest time of the year - but do so because it is also the start of the life cycle that will carry them and the herd forward into the coming year. The herd will be renewed and the ranch will continue. New life has begun and future generations will blossom and prosper as the herd and ranch grows.
In "the winter of our discontent" (Shakespeare: "Richard III") the darkness overwhelms the weary soul. But the light shines as one realizes that "it is calving season" for those willing to go out and seek the new life that has come.
Be blessed and be a blessing!
The Rev. John Bruington is the retired pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Havre. He now lives in Colorado, but continues to write "Out Our Way." He can be reached for comment or dialogue at [email protected].