I am a big fan of the winter holiday season. Of course, there are things I don’t like about it, the sometimes-overwhelming pressures and the endless barrage of advertisements. Yet, in spite of the flaws, the winter holidays are among my favourites.
I often find myself responding with tenderness and with joy when I see a small string of lights in front of a house, or a reedy child’s voice singing holiday songs. I’ve been known to cry when listening to a choir or when opening a card from an old, rarely seen friend. I’m not normally the sort of person that might be described as ‘soft’; so, this winter time tendency is out of character. Lately I’ve been wondering where my tender holiday-heart comes from and I’ve decided it is more than just the warm memories of holidays spent with my family that prompt my uncharacteristic response. December is, in almost any part of Canada, often a rather gloomy month. Days are short, afternoons are dark and rain or snow are common. Grey and brown are the dominant colours of our neighbourhoods. So, although we’d be forgiven for crawling into bed, pulling the covers over our heads and declaring our intent to hibernate until spring, we don’t. Instead we do the opposite. We set beautiful tables, prepare unusual meals, decorate our homes, gather friends and light candles.
I’m moved by the human tenacity that leads us to declare, in the face of darkness, ‘we dare to hope and dream’. There is a hymn, included in ‘Singing the Living Tradition’ hymnbook, that has as part of its chorus, “And I’ll give you hope, when hope is hard to find; and I’ll bring a song of love, and a rose in the winter time.” I suspect my tender and teary reaction to the winter holidays is a result of my profound wonder at the way we look for the promise of something as unlikely as a rose in the winter time.
These are dark times and the darkest day of the year is so near. The gardens are grey and the weather is dreary. Life can be very hard and sometimes the troubles that come our way seem to be too much. There are still injustices enough to break your heart. Our planet’s ability to sustain life, in the face of indignities we ask it to bear, is in jeopardy. There are good reasons to despair.
Yet, despite that, I invite you to join me this holiday season in looking for the unlikely promise of a rose in the winter, a lamp that burns for eight days, the promise of daylight returning or a baby in a manger. I hope you can join with those you love and to share beautiful meals together. I encourage you to open your heart and your throat and to sing beautiful music – wherever you may find yourself – in the car, while walking or with others during services in your congregation.
May your congregations and may you find a few moments during this winter season, to reflect on the messages of love and hope that are there for the looking. In 1849, Unitarian minister, Edmund Seale wrote of angel music that floated over the weary world. May we all have the ears to hear it.
Rev. Linda Thomson