Mud beneath the Snow
Every year, Ryan O’Neal, better known as Sleeping at Last, releases a Christmas song for his free Christmas collection. This year it was “Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep” from White Christmas, a dearly loved classic. However, my favourite offering is further down the list, a song simply titled “Snow.”
The branches have traded
Their leaves for white sleeves
All warm-blooded creatures make ghosts as they breathe
Scarves are wrapped tightly like gifts under trees
Christmas lights tangle in knots annually
While many people are wrapping up their Christmas lights rather than untangling them from last year, we Anglicans and other liturgical folks are just entering into the celebration of the Christmas season. For us, Christmas begins on the evening of December twenty-fourth going to Epiphany, on the sixth of January.
This year, at my cabin and across the country at my parents’ house, snow fell like shimmering garments on knobby tree arms a week before Christmas. Yet, by the time the big day itself rolled around, the sun had melted the tree robes and we were down to shirt-sleeves and thin sweaters. A bit of a letdown from all the expectations set up by Christmas films. I love snow, but who decided that it is “necessary” at Christmas?
Our families huddle closely
Betting warmth against the cold
Our bruises seem to surface
Like mud beneath the snow
Some kinds of “snow” do feel necessary. . .We want the blanket of “nice feelings” at Christmas to mask the cracks in our families of origin or in our marriages, in our loneliness and in our broken spots. But holidays have a way of rubbing against our bruised places. An argument in the car on the way to a Christmas gathering reminds us of the scores of fights we’ve had all year. The question, “So, are you seeing anyone?” rankles when you’re tired of being alone, or you’ve recently broken up with someone, or you feel somehow lesser because you indeed don’t have someone. Sometimes the bruise is cruel and bone-deep: someone is missing in the pew at midnight mass with you; there is only the memory of someone you dearly love hovering at every crowded table, making it feel incomplete.
It is a muddy, messy thing, this Christmas. Messy Christmas. That, in fact, is the phrase my phone auto-corrects to instead of “merry” Christmas. I laughed the first time happened. It struck my cynical side as humorous and morosely accurate. The mud of the Fall still lurks beneath the snow of the now-but-not-completed redemption. But clean slates are coming. . .
So we sing carols softly,
As sweet as we know
A prayer that our burdens will lift as we go
Like young love still waiting under mistletoe
We’ll welcome December with tireless hope
Hope. Christmas is replete with Hope. God joining to flesh in a miraculous marriage. The Redeemer was born. Heaven opened and was seen on earth. We read Luke chapter two with a happy sigh.
But the crushing reality is that the Redeemer wasn’t born as an adult. Things didn’t change when he came. Yes, there was the flash of Heaven, revealed to the shepherds. There was a great sign in the heavens, leading the wise men. Then, just like the previous four hundred years, there was a lull. Hope was born…but He wouldn’t be revealed for another thirty years.
I wonder if the shepherds were like fourteen-year-old me: not subtle, hanging around wherever I could—whenever I could—to be around the guy I was crushing on. Did they hang around Bethlehem those first few days? Did they hold fast to the promise of the Messiah? Or did they cease believing? Certainly, unflagging hope is hard to cultivate, especially when your hope is placed in the wrong thing, the wrong outcome, or the wrong person. Those shepherds waited for thirty years. Did they continue to hope? Did they connect that awe-filled night years ago with the peripatetic rabbi stirring up the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the Jewish people?
Hope can be hard to cling to in the darkness, but that is precisely where we need it the most. Where we need him the most. Thirty years before the Rabbi began calling fishermen, the ancient, long-awaited seed of promise was sown, becoming a tender shoot in Egyptian and then Galilean soil.
“…For you [John] will go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways,
To give knowledge of salvation to His people
By the remission of their sins,
Through the tender mercy of our God,
With which the Dayspring from on high has visited us;
To give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death,
To guide our feet into the way of peace.” (Luke 1:76-79, NKJV)
Our Future is White as Snow
Hope. It comes in through those very cracks we long to cover. He enters in through our broken places. He is gentle with our bruises.
As gentle as feathers
The snow piles high
Our world gets rewritten and retraced every time
Like fresh plates and clean slates
Our future is white (See Is. 1:18)
So, “let the bells keep on ringing, making angels in the snow. And may the melody [of Hope] surround us, when the cracks begin to show” this messy Christmastide.
“Snow” by Sleeping at Last (Ryan O’Neal)