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The Bitter Frost and the Wild Snowflake

THE COLORFUL SPLENDOR THAT REIGNED SUPREME A MONTH AGO from mountain ridge to winding stream has morphed into something more ominous. Limbs and trunk are now but the cleft and gnarled skeletal remains of a cast of wooden characters that mime their misery with creepy arms and crooked legs stretched across low-slung clouds and the gray fogs of autumn. This year’s bronze mat of decay lies sodden and fallow upon the forest floor. A gentle rain quenches the thirst of the famished earth.

We, the “pray-ers,” having offered astonished thanksgiving for the elegant fall foliage, now find ourselves catching our breath in urgent petition for those among us whose wells have gone dry and whose rivers have dwindled. The drought runs deep.

Grassy fields, once alive with the verdant joys of summer, have yielded up their vitality begrudgingly to pale russet dejection written upon the face of winter. Stalwart evergreens brace themselves with solemnity against the fury of January winds that soon will cough up the bitter frost and the wild snowflake.

Across another continent, the “pray-ers” are war-torn and weary refugees of the current conflagration. They endure empty stomachs and plead for consolation from behind their veils of tears. The social and political landscape explodes in desolation and shakes a holy tremor at the screaming of helpless children and the sobbing of comfortless mothers in lament. This is an order of drought that runs deeper, and still deeper yet, to where it is a veritable fire raging upon the face of the earth. What—who, then?—will dispel the smoke of distrust, and quash the flames of hate that make for a barrenness worse than the winter solstice?

Into this whirling vortex of disfigurement and degeneration, where violence begets violence with more violence, the spirit of Love alone overcomes evil with the power of good, even as the Lord of creation makes human entry into a sinful world bent upon its own destruction.

This is the Good News—the promise of Isaiah, the hope of Advent, and the joy of Christmas—that Jesus Christ, the incarnate flesh of God, who was “wounded for our transgressions” and “bruised for our iniquities” (Isa. 53:5a) is “surely” the one who on behalf of all peoples “has borne our sickness and carried our pains” (v. 4). “And all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God” (52:10b).

No person need lose heart. In God’s due season, the magnolia will blossom and the cherry send forth its fruit. God’s providence will relieve all grief and suffering, and vanquish all iniquity and transgression, including the sins of the good folk.

May such faith reign supreme through all the seasons of your heart.


Charles Davidson, writer and editor, is a retired Presbyterian (PCUSA) pastor, psychotherapist, and professor of pastoral theology, care, and counseling. He is the editor of George Buttrick’s Guide to Preaching the Gospel (Abingdon Press) and the author of Bone Dead, and Rising: Vincent van Gogh and the Self Before God (Cascade Books).


An earlier version of this essay was published in The Presbyterian Outlook, December 24, 2001