“He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms” (Isaiah 40:11)
In the November 29 issue of The Christian Century, the Reverend Bill Goetler writes about a homeless man, Danny, whom he befriended one winter season. Bill writes about Danny’s comings and goings and their random meetings in the neighborhood.
In their happenstance meetings in the neighborhood, Danny asks for things—money or food—and Bill sometimes gives joyfully and other times gives with some hesitation.
But every time Bill runs into Danny, Danny delivers a one-line sermon: “Reverend, Is this the way it is supposed to be?”
With Autumn packing up for the season and getting ready to go on vacation in Cancun, Winter makes its way into our life like an unwelcome guest knocking at our door without warning. The trees look barer, our heaters are running more these days. Our cat stands in the backyard and looks at us through the glass door whining for a warm bowl of milk.
Winter also brings with it words from Isaiah that we don’t like to hear: “Grass withers, the flower fades” (40:7). We get sleepy because it gets dark earlier; our bodies grow heavy under the burdens we have put up with in the past year—cancer, grief, runny noses, economic hardships. Things wither and fade.
“Hey, Reverend, is this the way it is supposed to be?”
In Advent, we recall the time when Israel faced its long winter under the Roman Empire. Their economy, like ours, wasn’t great. Darkness covered the land; fear was the order of the day. Everyone’s grief-stricken walk was slightly askew, more like a hobble.
But in Advent, we don’t let winter have the final say. Yes, winter may come into our homes and make itself comfortable, sitting in our easy chair and putting its dirty feet on our grandmother’s footrest. It may even steal our sheets or hog all the hot water. We know, however, that God reigns and that God keeps His promises. We know that even in the midst of winter, the light of new life breaks into our souls, shines brightly, and warms our hearts.
Isaiah gives a rebuttal to winter:
“See, the Lord God comes with might…He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom” (40:10, 11).
Isaiah, who just told us about grass withering, turns the tone of his words on its head and erupts in praise and promise. He declares God embrace even in winter.
Last week, our Hanging of the Green service at Trinity brought some color into our black-and-white world. After all, if there is anyplace we should go to be comforted and find hope in winter, it should be the church.
We adorned the sanctuary with nature, God’s very handiwork; we lit the Christmon tree, and we experienced life’s ever-green vitality placed under God’s care.
We need God’s embrace these days. The holidays are hard for some folks in our community, especially those who long to spend one more Christmas with a lost loved one. For other folks, it’s nothing more than a nuisance—Christmas shopping, business parties, and such. Some are too broke to shop at all.
But no matter where we are when winter knocks on our door, we can be confident that this is not “the way it is supposed to be.” God provides light and grace and a strong embrace—Warm and refreshing, like hot chocolate by the fire place.
Advent ultimately points to the light of Christmas. Ever hold a newborn baby? Feel the baby’s heartbeat against your own? Ever admire a baby’s somber silence or cry for food? Ever see that miraculous glow that babies emit? Ever kiss a baby and feel that you were kissing the very face of God? That’s the way it is supposed to be. That’s the way it is supposed to be. Amen and Amen.
Source: Bill Goettler, “Living By the Word,” The Christian Century (29 November 2011): 20.