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Michael Smith ~ Sister Winter

It’s cold.

The countdown is on. The pitchers and catchers have already reported for spring training, but that’s in Florida and Arizona. We are still very much in the season of winter here in New Jersey. So we wait for spring. Next time you are in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, make sure to give that groundhog the evil eye from me. Winter is tough, but the seasons of the year remind us that hope is always just around the corner. Spring and summer seem like a long way off on these cold winter days, but in reality, we all know that it is coming. Can you make it?

The season of Lent is appropriate to be shared and lived into during the wintertime. Lent is a season of prayer, sacrifice, and fasting. This is a time in the church where we try to get out into the wilderness, spiritually speaking. Easter comes with the new birth of spring and we see life being renewed, but we still need that wilderness experience of winter.

Unfortunately, for some reason God seems to do the best character development work when we are in the wilderness. Throughout the biblical text we see people out in the wilderness or in the “wintertime” of their spiritual lives. It is often here that God decides to do something new. Jesus himself went out into the wilderness and experienced such as this. If I were God, then we would learn the most in the summertime of our faith, but I am not God. God’s ways are different than our ways, and often – we need to be out in the wilderness: “Now my heart is returned to sister winter,” as singer-songwriter Sufjan Stevens describes it.

Don’t be afraid of the winter. If we are honest with ourselves, we find ourselves there more often that we like. The circumstances and situations of our lives have placed us in periods of restlessness, frustration, anxiety, and depression. As difficult as those places are, God shapes us there. Embrace the winter; we know that spring is coming.

In this season of Lent, embrace the journey to the cross. Walk through the pages of the Gospels as you see Christ focus on his mission and purpose. This road sometimes will turn cold as we see Jesus’ friends deny and betray him. We will see the religious elite of their day turn their back of the God of love who walked in their midst. It will grow dark and cold and we will long for warmth and light.

The shadow that is cast in this season has nothing to do with Punxsutawney Phil and the prediction of the weather. Again, Stevens puts it into words: “There is no shade in the shadow of the cross.” The dark and cold leads us to a longing for warmth and light. Live in it and wait for it. Ultimately, our world will participate in the joy of cold turning into warmth and darkness into light.

The cross to the empty grave. Easter is coming…