I spent a few hours today in my yard with a leaf-blower, a rake, and a great many large green plastic bags. I appreciate my trees very much. In fact, I planted two of the trees—an ornamental cherry and a bloodgood Japanese maple— in our yard myself, not to mention a dozen or so evergreens.
I even like autumn leaves. I love to watch the chlorophyll-green give way to their default colors, and freshly-fallen leaves have been one of my favorite things to photograph. However, at some point they begin to decay. In Oregon, as it rains often this time of year, the fallen leaves mash together and start to rot, killing the grass underneath. Then, it means several weeks of raking, blowing, mowing and bagging.
Today as I was leaf-blowing and raking, I began to think about the leaf-cycle, and how autumn really is a season of death. The chorus of Paul Simon’s “My Little Town” started running through my brain, “Nothing but the dead and dying…” I’m not being morbid, I’m just acknowledging reality. Autumn shows us in very clear ways that the circle of life is not all about life. And in Oregon, while there’s still a lot of green going on, we don’t have the advantage of snow to cover up the signs of death that autumn brings. While we love the colors of autumn, we can’t escape the fact that in the end, death stinks, and it’s ugly. And, we have to deal with it.
Christmastime is here
As I blew and raked and bagged the thousands of dead, rotting leaves, I was also aware of how Christmas—regardless of what time of year Jesus was actually born—breaks into the “dead zone” of the circle of life. For us upper Northern hemisphere folks, Christmas is perfectly timed to demonstrate the power of the incarnation in a very tangible way. To borrow from Paul (Rom. 5:6), at just the right time, while we were dead in our sins, Christ came. The incarnation—what we celebrate as Christmas—breaks into the downswing of the circle of life bringing super-life into the “bleak midwinter.” Christmas tells us, among other things, that after winter there is a spring, and that there will be an Easter.
While we were “nothing but the dead and dying,” God sent Jesus. “In him was life, and the life was the light of men” (Jn 1:4). Christmas… lights… gifts… it all fits. We sometimes miss it, in spite of everything. But that doesn’t stop God from breaking through; nothing can stop Christmas from coming.
Today, it’s nothing but the dead and dying. However, we deal with it knowing that in a few days, it will be Joy to the World.