Outside, a white frost covers the ground. Shrivelled brown stalks stick up out of the bare earth, and the trees stand leafless against the steely sky. The light comes late, and leaves early, casting long shadows as it goes. Life and colour has faded away. This is the season of death.
Yet we know that under the frosty soil, seeds and roots are preparing for their rebirth in spring. Green shoots will sprout, dancing daffodils appear, and the world will come to life once more. And between the death and the life, we celebrate Christmas.
We don’t fear the death of winter, because we know that it is only the prelude to new life. Jesus, too, spoke of his death as the means to glory, and used the analogy of a seed in winter. If a grain of wheat isn’t buried, he said, it stays just that: one solitary seed. But when it dies, it can bring forth a whole new plant, bursting with heads of grain. And he issues a challenge, recorded by all four gospel writers: Do you value your life enough to risk losing it?
But then we learn that our lives have already been lost. “Don’t you know that everyone who has been baptized, has been baptized into Jesus’ death?” says Paul. That decision to follow Jesus has already taken us through death and into a different kind of life. The symbolic burial of baptism – in many churches, shown by a plunge into a pool of water – unites us with Christ on the cross and gives us the gift of his resurrection. Although winter is still all around us, we know that spring is coming.
So now we have new eyes to look at life and death. Jesus’ coming reduced our lives to worthless husks, yet gave them more value than we ever imagined. And death is no longer the ultimate and fearful doom. Its sting has been pulled; it is now merely a pause on our journey to eternity.
We still grieve, of course. We still get angry, we still mourn, we still weep. We still cry out over the unfairness, the insanity of it all. We still miss the ones we love.
But now we have a hope that can overcome the fear of death. The hope that Christmas marks the crossing point from winter to spring. The hope in a baby who brought life into the world – and who died, and who brought life again. The hope that there’s a new plant inside every buried seed.
This Christmas, may the fear of winter be taken from you, and the hope of spring be planted in your heart.