Song of Songs 2.8-14; Psalm 32.2-3, 11-12, 20-21 (LXX); Luke 1.39-45
My beloved speaks and says to me:
‘Arise, my love, my fair one,
and come away;
for lo, the winter is past,
the rain is over and gone.
The flowers appear on the earth,
the time of singing has come,
and the voice of the turtledove
is heard in our land. (Song 2.10-12)
. . .
This passage conjures up a rich and complex set of memories and images. I cannot read it or hear it without immediately being reminded that it was the text the priest chose to preach on at our wedding. I was hopeful then that I was about to embark on my happily ever after: ‘the winter is past, the rain is over and gone’. I thought we had been through a lot, we’d weathered the storm, and we were entering a time of peace and plenty. A month later, we found out that our firstborn child would have a congenital heart defect, very possibly a heart defect strongly correlated with Down Syndrome. Nothing could be established with any certainty until much later in the pregnancy, except that our baby would require heart surgery in the first few months of life. The storm was not over.
And still it rages, nearly ten years on. Storms within, and storms without. Very often, I find myself wondering with the disciples, ‘Master, do you not care if we perish?’ Marriage and family, far from being the heart of the ‘happily ever after’ I dreamt about, bring their own rain clouds and furious winds. When will the winter be over? When will the rains be over and done?
Advent comes in the midst of the storm; maybe Advent itself is not unlike the storm: it is a time of waiting in hope for what is not yet. Advent is a time in which we look for the salvation of our God, even as all creation groans with us, ‘Master, do you not care if we perish?’ Christmas will come, and Christmas will go, though, and I wonder whether this time singing ‘Hark the herald angels sing’ will cause the storm to abate. For the Great Hope may be already, in the sense that salvation has been accomplished, but I experience it these days almost exclusively as not-yet. Brokenness reigns, chaos erupts, and the harmonious order of God’s good creation seems to have vanished.
Far from the winter showing signs of ending, it seems like I am living in Narnia bound by the White Witch: always winter, and never Christmas. If only this Christmas, Christ would come again, and end the winter! I suspect that it is I who am spell-bound, my inner landscape thickly covered in the snow and ice of many winters of my soul. And the spell needs breaking; winter cannot rule forever, even in my own heart. And I know I have no more power to change the season in my heart than I do to change the weather outside.
So, I ask again, ‘Master, do you not care that we are perishing?’