However tempting it might have been to write yet another sermon on that first chapter of John for the Christmas season, there was another reading that caught my attention so thoroughly this week:
12Praise the Lord, O Jerusalem! Praise your God, O Zion!
13For he strengthens the bars of your gates; he blesses your children within you.
14He grants peace within your borders; he fills you with the finest of wheat.
15He sends out his command to the earth; his word runs swiftly.
16He gives snow like wool; he scatters frost like ashes.
17He hurls down hail like crumbs— who can stand before his cold?
18He sends out his word, and melts them; he makes his wind blow, and the waters flow.
19He declares his word to Jacob, his statutes and ordinances to Israel.
20He has not dealt thus with any other nation; they do not know his ordinances. Praise the Lord!
“God gives snow like wool…” Did you ever imagine that the Bible spoke about winter-time? We think about the places in the Bible where the stories take place, and I don’t imagine that we see any of these stories taking place in the middle of a good ol’ Canadian winter scene. But, here near the end of all the Psalms we find this interesting Psalm about winter and the awe-someness of God in a different fashion.
There is a special moment in winter that I wait for, with eager anticipation, every year. It hasn’t happened yet, but I’m hopeful. It’s perhaps the most beautiful thing about winter; at least it is to me.
On a day where it has snowed a fair amount;
and the sun is setting;
and the city is preparing to head indoors and sleep the remaining night away;
and the snow is lazily tumbling out of the sky;
and every usual city noise is muffled just enough;
(kind of like the muffling effect of a thick woollen scarf around the face, or a pair of woollen socks that muffle the feeling of a cold floor).
There is this magical moment where time and sound become mesmerizingly still.
Every sense in my body gets a little more enhanced
as the crunchiness of the snow under foot is SO clear,
the chill in the air tastes SO crisp,
the touch of cold creates just the right amount of shiver on my arms and back,
the light in and from the sky glows and bounces off of every little fleck of frozen moisture just so.
And I always stop in awe.
And sometimes, perhaps even more and more as I get older, in the hustle and bustle of this Christmas season I find myself longing for that kind of moment, as if I need the actual event of winter stillness to happen in order to find a moment’s peace.
Or, to get a real sense of awe-someness of God.
I often find that people talk about an awe of God’s creation, or God’s power, or God’s amazing-ness, when they are looking at something truly beautiful in the world. In general, that beauty is of lushness of nature teeming with life and growing and abundant and overwhelmingly… well, green and verdant. We speak about God’s creation as living growth. Even the birth of Christ is about this newborn child – full of hope and promise and… well, life.
Most people don’t talk about winter in the same way. It’s cold, it’s dark, it’s bitter, and a world in the grip of winter is asleep. Winter forces people inside – both literally and figuratively. Frosty winds make moan, the earth stands still in silence, and all that.
The winter chill and dearth of life seems especially palpable right now, in the immediate time after Christmas Day. All the church services have been attended; presents unwrapped and papers discarded; dinners have been finished, turkey soup from leftovers eaten or frozen; holidays are over and families are homebound. And the baby Jesus has come out of the manger, packed away to await another year of lights and levity and celebration. That feeling of awe in the season and in God is diminshed somewhat. In reality, we discover that winter is just beginning – there are months of cold and bitter silence to look forward to.
But, there is something in that silence that serves to teach us to carry on with a sense of awe in God, and, to know the real presence of God in the world with each of us.
Today’s psalm strikes me as a winter psalm that is that message of hope in the silence. It’s a little different: a winter ode. Not just because the psalmist talks about snow, frost, hail, and cold – but also because this segment of the psalm seems to point to that magical moment of winter stillness wherein the world rests and God speaks words to inspire.
St. Augustine touched on this very same kind of stillness through a different line in the psalm. He begins at the 13th verse. Specifically, how bars of gates being strong are about keeping gates closed, not open.
Much as in winter when all the world around us seems to be cold, or dead and dormant, or at rest; but is actually hard at work preparing for the eventual springtime, we all need some time to be closed in, hard at work on the things that need doing within for the life that is lived out. We all need times of stillness to rest, prepare, and wonder. And it is in those times we can trust that God is there to strengthen us. When you are closed in on yourself, God is there to strengthen you so that you may be safe as you do what it is that you need to do, and so that you can come out again. So that you may be at peace in your downtime, and may find the fullness of what it is that the soul is searching for, or can hear more clearly the Word of God spoken into the stillness, calling us out of the darkness into the light.
That Word of God that runs swiftly and melts away the chill and frozenness.
I often wonder about the darkness, frozenness, and chill of winter. It can be very easy to get absorbed in this sense of never-ending cold and bleakness when surrounded by winter in Saskatchewan. But then those magical moments come along and remind us that it’s not all such dismal weather. In fact, snow seems to serve to amplify what little light is provided by the Sun.
And by that, I don’t mean that our wintertime serves to amplify this little light-bringer of a Christmas baby. We don’t get this one-time Christmas Day message that tells us that the Word came down to dwell among us in the form of a tiny newborn baby teeming with hope and promise and new life that’s somehow supposed to sustain us through the cold and long days of winter until we reach the green and hopeful beauty of spring.
That tiny baby grew up and lived a life among people. Experienced all that humanity was and is – and showed us that the Word of God exists all around us, in and through each life. In the great moments of God revealed clearly in all God’s awesomeness, to those small moments of stillness that whisper the awe-inspiring words we need to hear. Our lives are frosted with moments where the Word of God breaks through the cold and reminds us that God is here.
And for that we lift our voices in the bleakest times of midwinter and praise our God.
Let us Pray:
We give thanks that the work of your creative weather so inspires an understanding of awe in you. We give thanks that your creative word became a fleshy human baby so full of hope and promise, but also as a very real and obvious model of your presence among us. Strengthen us with your presence in our moments of stillness, when you seem furthest from us. Encourage us to rest, as needed, in the winter moments of our lives that we can emerge with life and light in the springtime of our futures.
St. Augustine. Exposition on the Book of Psalms: Psalm CXLVII, 20.
Fred Gaiser. “Commentary on Psalm 147:12-20,” Preach This Week. Working Preacher.org
C. H. Spurgeon. “Frost and Thaw,” Farm Sermons. The Spurgeon Archive.
James Limburg. “Commentary on Psalm 147:12-20,” Preach This Week. Working Preacher.org
 St. Augustine. Exposition on the Book of Psalms: Psalm CXLVII, 20. http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf108.ii.CXLVII.html