As the nights lengthen and the weather deteriorates, it is tempting to wish the winter over quickly and to look forward to the coming of spring. Some of us dread the long dark nights of winter and the possibility of being immobilised by the ice and snow. When we wish the months of winter away, however, we are wishing our lives away. We are dreading four or five months each year.
To a certain extent, our ancestors were wiser about this than we are. They didn’t have the ability to exclude the winter with the two switches that we use: the lights and the heating system. When the sun set, there was an all encompassing darkness. And they must have wondered what winter would bring and whether they would make it through to spring.
On the other hand, they responded to the winter in a spiritual way. As winter approached with its darkness when it was impossible to work very much, they created certain seasons in which they could renew their spiritual lives. Advent, the four weeks before Christmas, became a time of stillness and quiet when they prepared for Christmas within themselves.
At the other end of winter, they also had Lent, again a time of inner spiritual preparation for Easter. The absence of food at the end of winter and the still short days were made into a virtue and the time was turned into a time of prayer and reflection. In between these two sombre seasons, there were the twelve days of Christmas celebration, the only time in the year when people who worked on and for the land could enjoy an extensive holiday. The rest of the year they were far too busy.
I determined a few years ago to stop wishing winter gone. It felt like wishing the year shorter by five months. Instead, I have learnt to enjoy the stillness of nature in December. In winter there are some aspects of nature that we don’t see the rest of the year if we look carefully. And then there are the first, almost imperceptible, signs of new life in January. The long nights are a reminder that work and activity aren’t the only reason we are here. That we need to learn to be still in order to listen to our inner selves, and to God. Psalm 18 goes: ‘my God lights up my darkness’
At the beginning of Advent we will have the ancient Advent Candle Lit Service at 6.30 pm on Sunday 1st December. The Advent hymns and music are perhaps the most beautiful of the whole year. Do please join us.