Sunday, 10 December 2017

The Gift of a Snowy Advent

Despite having lived in England for sixteen years, I still find it endlessly amusing how a couple of inches of snow utterly paralyses the country.  Coming, as I do, from a part of the world where we only really start talking about the weather when it dips below -20C or the snow gets over six feet (yes feet, not inches), the British apocalypse of three inches is funny.  At times, I've also found it frustrating, because I know full well that with decent levels of snow clearing, the country doesn't need to stop.  Those who know me will be well familiar with my comments to this effect on Facebook!

But this year, I've realised that a snowy, silent country where everything stops is actually a gift.  

Admittedly, that's a rather sweeping statement as the snow is worst in the Midlands where I live, it doesn't apply to the whole country, but here we have around 8 inches to a foot by now, after three days of continual snow and wind and it's still snowing.  Apparently it's the tail end of Storm Caroline and it has hit the area hard - for Britain, this is genuinely extreme winter weather.  The main roads are gritted - but not plowed - and the residential and side streets aren't touched at all, so it really is no wonder we can't get anywhere.

So that got me thinking.  In the run up to Christmas, most people find themselves incredibly busy.  For those who hold to the Christian faith, there will be multiple church and carol services, for those in church leadership (like me) there will usually be dozens of sermons, child-friendly nativity stories, events to prepare for and many clergy are on their knees with exhaustion by Christmas Day.  For those who don't practice faith, there are still presents to buy and wrap, festive food to organise, parties with colleagues and friends...and the list goes on.  

However, while this may be the run up to Christmas, it's actually the season of Advent, a time intended to be about calm, quiet waiting and prayerful preparation as we remember the birth of Christ and the mystery of Emmanuel, God With Us.  

In this season, Christians are regularly encouraged by church leaders to slow down, to find times for quiet, and ease up on the diary just a little bit...(while those same church leaders move faster than ever!)  Many people nod politely and chuckle a bit, knowing full well that this is an almost impossible encouragement to practice because there's just too much to do.

But in a country that grinds to a halt for snow, we could choose to be frustrated at all the places we intended to be this weekend and all of the things we wanted to do.  As I write in my study on Sunday morning, many churches have cancelled their services, particularly those in rural areas where roads are unsafe and even impassable.  Others that are open have issued safety warnings preventing cars on site and warning vulnerable people to stay home with their blessing.  

On my own road, there are three abandoned cars belonging to those who have tried to make it up the small hill out of our estate, failed and skidded back down again.  Children and teenagers walk past my window bundled up to the ears, dragging sledges and throwing snowballs, laughing.  Two days ago, the schools shut one by one and students were either told to stay home or to go home if they'd already arrived (and short of a significant overnight thaw, I wouldn't be surprised if schools remain shut tomorrow.).  Police have closed some roads and warned drivers to stay home except in case of emergency.  Hospitals are putting out bulletins on social media asking for anyone who happens to own a 4x4 to be willing to collect doctors and nurses from their homes so they can get to work to treat patients. 

So here we are, in Advent, forced to stop working, to stop shopping, to stop socialising and instead having limited option other than to spend time with our families - either playing in the snow with our children or keeping warm and occupied indoors.  Whether we like it or not, we are in a time of waiting, of quiet, of enforced rest.

So for me, this year, I choose to accept being snowed in as a gift.  I've been able to throw snowballs with my excited son, to laugh as our puppy rolls delightedly in the snow, and to take plenty of photos.  Christmas carols are playing in the lounge, I may even find the time for some Christmas cards later on and my family are actually spending time together instead of passing like ships in the night.  

This snowy Advent, I may actually be able to understand what it means to move slowly and to wait.  So a blessed and slow Advent to you all.