Tuesday, November 29, 2005

God's Historical Revisionism

In the bleak midwinter, 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 midwinter, 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 midwinter a stable place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ....
(Christina Rossetti, music by Gustav Holst)

When I was younger, I wondered why we celebrate Christ's coming in the bleak mid-winter, when anybody who reads the Scriptures carefully figures that He really was born sometime in the spring. Sometime at any rate which was warm enough for shepherds to be keeping flocks out on the hills. And then I began to reflect upon what else was going on in the world, when the Church began to observe Christmas.

Christians found themselves working towards a new culture in the midst of their pagan kingdoms. Kingdoms and cultures which every mid-winter held religious festivals honoring the sun as a god. Winter was then a time of real fear. Would the days continue to grow shorter? Would light and warmth never return? Would the Sun-God abandon them to darkness and death? The winter solstice observances were attempts to appease the Sun-God, to entice him to return. It was an attempt to ensure that the cycle of seasons would continue. The best that could be hoped was that the wheel would turn once more.

The Christian celebration of Christmas at this time rather than at some other was a bold, immediate, emotionally-satisfying declaration that the power of darkness has been broken forever. Christ, the Light of the world, has come and will come again. This is no thin hope that the wheel might grind on. The hopeless treadmill of time has been given an end and a purpose. History is no longer a meaningless succession of events and interchangeable characters. Christ is the Lord of Years, the Potentate of Time.

He is re-writing history, giving it His meaning. He is re-writing my history. In the bleak mid-winter.


Annie said...

I agree with your understanding of the symbolism of winter and the appropriateness of Christian truth breaking in on pagan confusion. I must humbly admit that it isn't obvious to me what season the scriptures indicate. Isn't Israel warm most of the year? Don't shepherds have to watch their sheep all year round outside? Where else would they put them? I am sure there are other indications that I am missing and you have roused my curiosity!

I have enjoyed perusing your blog!

Kim Anderson said...

It's true Israel is warmer than we are throughout the winter, but it is only during the warmest months that the sheep are kept out in the pastures 27/7. In the colder months, they are brought into the sheepfolds at night.
The Bible Almanac says, "Winter was wet and chilly in Judea. It is unlikely that shephers would have spent a December night in an open field, subject to rain and wind. Christ's birth was more likely during the spring lambing season, when nights would have been balmy and shephers would have needed to be awake, tending the ewes.


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