I\’ve reflected lately on how death pervades this time of year. In Minnesota we get the season changes fully. Technically it is autumn (til 12/21), but it sure feels like the nip of winter lately–a season that emulates the stark reality and silence of death. Animal life beds down, burrows under, or heads south. Plant life dies or goes dormant and water creatures bump against a ceiling of ice. Wind howls without resistance and cold turns to colder and, if we\’re lucky, back to cold again. Darkness increasingly steals the day—progressively extending its milky shadows it asserts victory over light and life, for with little sun we all suffer.
Humans tend to check out this time of year. Permanently, I mean. It is almost like the reality around us beckons to us to let go of life. I know of many who are mourning loved ones who\’ve died this time of year and others who are watching loved ones die or have recently put them to rest.
Also, yesterday was the 30th anniversary of the massacre (or, some would say, mass suicide) of Jim Jones cult members. Even though they were in the warm climes of South America, these Americans chose November 18th as the day of death.
I quite inadvertently caught a glimpse of the sunset yesterday, upon glimpsing I sat down and watched–it was as red a sunset as I\’ve ever seen, very beautiful. In Matthew 16:2 Jesus says, \”When evening comes, you say, ’It will be fair weather: for the sky is red\’\” Fair weather denotes, in my mind, a quiet, serene spell. Nothing noteworthy threatens just silence and stillness. Just like death…
As life ebbs and death descends and settles in, I look around at our culture. Beginning Halloween (a day we celebrate darkness and the dead) the Christmas season began, did you notice? At least one radio station on my car\’s set channels started playing Christmas music on Halloween and, of course, the retailers had their stores and advertisements jingling red and green. It seems we skip over the grieving that autumnal winter winds invite and go headlong into the celebration of birth/new life. Thanksgiving is even eclipsed, a day set apart to look back and thank God for all His blessings (including those who\’ve gone before). Instead of reflecting on death, grieving loss and giving thanks, we go from a party about death and darkness straight into a party about new life and light. From funeral to birthday, from demons to baby Jesus, from deep darkness to bright light we go and, in doing so, dive head first into ignoring the days and weeks of gray that surround us, days that invite us to pause and reflect on death, on life.
Dare we be counter cultural and turn off that radio station and refuse to hang our Christmas lights until we’ve sat in the dark and prayed about this time in-between and what it signifies? Maybe I ask too much, for denial is a strong force and thoughts of death and loss tend to resurrect fear and sorrow. No, chances are we’ll keep ringing the bells and donning the red and green…stay on the surface and stay productive, so much to do, afterall.