Such Confidence

Resilience,  © Lynn Abbott Studios

Resilience, © Lynn Abbott Studios

©2014 Lynn Abbott

I’ll never forget the day my twelve-year-old brother announced, “There is no Santa Claus.”  I was five at the time, and we were riding in the back seat of my mother’s 1965 Volkswagen bug.  My brother’s timing was impeccable.  I had just had my photo taken with Santa.

It was a cold, rainy day in the San Francisco Bay area, and I did my best to hold back my tears even though they threatened to mingle with the raindrops beading on bug’s back window.

My hopes and expectations dashed, the day closed in around me. I wondered if there would even be a Christmas that year.

My brother had essentially dumped a bucket of cold snow on my holiday cheer.  With his single shocking revelation, my childhood fantasies gave way to adult realities. And in that moment, I could keenly sympathize with C.S. Lewis’ Mr. Tumnus.

When describing the White Witch to Lucy Pensevie, C.S. Lewis’ Faun, Mr. Tumnus, sorrowfully tells Lucy that the White Witch is she who has made Narnia “always winter and never Christmas.”

Such a thought horrifies young fans of Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.  After all, what is winter without Christmas?  What is there to break up the cold days? What is there to look forward to?

Today–Christmas eve– dawned quite gray. It will be another day of December drizzle. Even midday is dark by comparison to the noon time of other seasons.

In fact, December 21 marks the shortest “day” of the year, and thus, darkness fills most of the 24 hour days allotted to that calendar week.

A rainy mist hovers over the landscape, and laces barren trees with gossamer, silver threads.  Silence fills the heavy air.  Winter’s chill muffles birds’ song.

As I have taken my daily walks this week, it has occurred to me that without the seasonal decor of holly, evergreen branches and wreaths or colorful Christmas lights, nature’s pallor would be a deathly, winter gray.

And even though my artistic sight finds a kind of monochromatic beauty in winter’s landscape,  I still cannot imagine a world where it is “always winter and never Christmas.”

That, to my way of thinking, would be a world not only fraught with pain, sorrow and grief but it would also be a place without hope; a life without expectation of love, joy or peace.

Quite frankly, I believe that through Mr. Tumnus,  C.S. Lewis intended that you and I should fully comprehend the significance of Christmas not only to Narnia but to our everyday lives.

In a frozen Narnia, Lewis perfectly painted the weariness and heartbreak that we all inevitably encounter.   Or as Shakespeare once wrote, “Now is the winter of our discontent…”

We long for better. Yet, you and I grieve over many things in this world: a son or daughter has wandered into dangerous waters; a spouse has betrayed you or a loved one. Financial failure threatens. Or maybe, health concerns overshadow the season. Or you’ve lost a loved one.

Perhaps, this Christmas, you feel life is especially tenuous.  And you wonder if Christmas blessings will ever come.

Resilience,  © Lynn Abbott Studios

Without a doubt, in this world, pain–physical, emotional and spiritual– reigns. Injustice, fear, and evil run amok.

And you and I face an avalanche of disappointed hope. Solomon, in fact, wrote in Proverbs 12:12, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick.”

Never has truer word been spoken.

Thankfully, ‘deferred’ is the operative word. Otherwise, this would be a pretty depressing proverb.

I’m glad Solomon didn’t stop with the first part of the verse.  Rather,  the door cracks open and a little light breaks through.

The whole of his proverb reads,  “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, But desire fulfilled is a tree of life.”

Pain, suffering and disappointment are only temporary.  They are hope deferred.

What it really comes down to is this:  Abba’s path to paradise is radically different from the road we expect.  He has promised His people welfare, a future and hope.  Yet, the journey to that blessing doesn’t run according to human wisdom.

Indeed, Christmas reminds me that God’s ways frequently don’t make human sense.

In early A.D., expectations for an earthly ruler ran high in Israel.  I imagine that many bedtime prayers included requests for the Messiah to crush the Roman empire. God’s people understandably looked for their Messianic king.

Their Old Testament scripture readings focused on Messiah as conquering king.  And the Jews were not alone in such thinking. When the Magi arrived in Israel, they told Herod that they looked for the prophesied king of Israel.

The coming reign of David’s heir was much-anticipated.

In this context, God’s plan is particularly shocking:   a stable and  a manger greeted Messiah. There were no kingly halls prepared nor were there any courtiers to wait upon the Christ’s every need.

Instead, the long-expected One mingled and walked with those who were socially unacceptable: tax collectors, lepers, the poor, Samaritans, and sinners. And then, He suffered and died on a cross–death reserved by Rome for criminals.

These events epitomize shattered Hebrew expectations.  Of course, God’s people had missed a significant part of God’s plan.  Isaiah had described the “suffering servant” (Isaiah 53).  Yet, they favored Biblical passages that identified the conquering king (Isaiah 9:6).

Nevertheless, both paths are essential to Abba’s plan.

The crown of thorns precedes the crown of glory. Or as Lewis wrote allegorically, Aslan must die in place of Edmund, the traitor. Yet, herein lies the amazing hope and grace of Christmas.

Sure, Friday’s crucifixion brought grief, fear, confusion and heartbreak. A cold wind blew.

Resilience,  © Lynn Abbott Studios

Hope deferred.

But Sunday was coming. And desire fulfilled would bring a tree of life to all those who believe.

With Aslan’s return, the snow began to melt.  Hope dawned.

In fact, God’s initially incomprehensible plan enabled our long-term best. For this reason, while cold winter may shroud this world, Christmas always warms our hearts.

Christmas carries the promise that “momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison,” (2 Corinthians 4:17).

Yes, Christmas signals the coming of our Messiah, our Savior.  But before He conquered, our Messiah suffered in order to rescue us from the clutches of sin and death.  In winter, the seed died.

However, our Messiah overcame death, and while you and I yet experience residual snow, God’s gift makes room for hope. The old life melts away.

We can say with the apostle Paul,

For God, who said, “Light shall shine out of darkness,” is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassing greatness of the power may be of God and not from ourselves; we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed… (2 Corinthians 4:6-9)

On my own, I crumbled.  Actually, life’s winter left my soul cold. Without Christ, it was always winter and never Christmas.

However, “…such confidence we have through Christ toward God.  Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God,” (2 Corinthians 3: 4-5).

Christ delivered God’s gift of grace.

Because of those deferred expectations long ago, you and I have been brought near to God.  And no matter what grief, heartbreak, or pain this world brings, God incarnate has rescued us from a permanent winter.

And by grace, we will one day share in Messiah’s ultimate victory over pain, suffering and death.

In the meantime, through Him, we are resilient.  Although we experience temporary suffering in this life, we will not be crushed. Because of Him, we are “more than conquerors.”

Resilience,  © Lynn Abbott Studios

Such is our confidence.

Despite whatever else that may happen, Christmas is for always.  We can depend on it because Christ has promised that He will never leave nor forsake us (Hebrews 13:5-6).

So it is that when this world seems to beat us down; when winter’s storms mingle with childlike tears or when an avalanche of disappointment threatens to bury hope, Christ reaches out with His scarred hand.

And as He pulls us from life’s cold, snowy drifts, He utters some of the most beautiful words ever heard: “My child…”

“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich,” ~2 Corinthians 8:9

“Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!” ~2 Corinthians 9:15

“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves.  It is the gift of God…” Ephesians 2:8