I have to admit when I heard what the special music was going to be for last Sunday’s service I wondered if it was actually a religious song. The title of the song was “Winter Snow.” It sure didn’t sound like a “religious” song but once I heard it sung by one of our youth I realized that my concerns were for aught. In fact, it turned out that the song was both beautiful and inspirational, with a message most appropriate for an Advent service and for the readers of this blog.
Here are the words to “Winter Snow” as penned by Audrey Assad. “Could’ve come like a mighty storm with all the strength of a hurricane. You could’ve come like a forest fire with the power of Heaven in Your flame. But You came like a winter snow—quiet and soft and slow—falling from the sky in the night to the earth below. Could’ve swept in like a tidal wave or an ocean to ravish our hearts. You could have come through like a roaring flood to wipe away the things we’ve scarred. No, Your voice wasn’t in a bush burning. No, Your voice wasn’t in a rushing wind. It was still, it was small, it was hidden.”
I hope you’ll give some thought to these words in the days to come. As the celebration of Christmas draws near we can find in nature a reminder of the miracle of the Incarnation. The song writer is correct, Jesus could have come in any number of ways to the earth, but God’s plan was for him to come in a still, small, hidden way—to come “quiet and soft and slow” like a winter snow.
There is so much about Jesus’ coming I find incomprehensible. Even with all the prophecies of the Old Testament I don’t think anyone could have imagined the Son of God coming as he did. I am certain not even the prophets themselves could have imagined God becoming one of us “like a winter snow.”
If you’re lucky enough to have a good snow in the coming days (I know, some would consider that unlucky), I hope that you’ll pause to think about this song and the parallels there are between a winter snow and the birth of our Savior. And whether you experience that snow or not, I hope and pray that in some still, small and hidden way you will experience Emmanuel, God with us, in your own particular way.
(I took the top image at Arches National Park. The bottom image was taken at Bryce Canyon National Park.)
“I do not at all understand the mystery of grace–only that it meets us where we are but does not leave us where it found us.” – Anne Lamott
This past weekend I had the privilege of going to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, to speak once again at the annual Wilderness Wildlife Week. This is an outstanding event held each January and if you are not familiar with it I’d encourage you to check it out sometime. While I was in Pigeon Forge I was able to drive into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park a couple of times to photograph. The fact that the park had received several inches of snow prior to my arrival made this an extra special adventure.
I love being able to get out in the woods after it has snowed, especially before a lot of other people get there and create a bunch of tracks. A snowy landscape is so beautiful and pristine. It is absolutely amazing how a heavy snow can transform a scene. Things that might have looked ugly or unattractive before become stunning in appearance. I thought about this yesterday as I was photographing in the Elkmont region of the park. I remembered, as I usually do when it snows, the Bible’s wonderful promise, “though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.” (Isaiah 1:18) This led me to think further on God’s grace. There are so many things about snow that remind me of His grace.
On U2’s album “All That You Can’t Leave Behind” there is a song called “Grace.” In the final line of this song Bono sings, “Grace makes beauty out of ugly things.” God’s grace, like snow, makes beauty out of ugly things. I know that for a fact. I’ve seen it in my own life and I’ve seen it in the lives of countless others. Like gently falling snow God’s grace covers all those who are open to receiving it. As it blankets us we find ourselves changed. We look different. We feel different. We are different. Through God’s grace our sins are “covered.” What was dirty is made clean. What was ugly is made beautiful.
Today I find myself very grateful for snow and for God’s amazing grace. I hope you do too.
(I took both of these pictures yesterday in the Elkmont area of the Great Smoky Mountains N.P.)
On this third Sunday of Advent it is snowing once again in the mountains of eastern Kentucky. The theme for this particular Sunday in Advent is joy. Although the joy is supposed to be for the coming of Christ at Bethlehem long ago, I have a feeling there are lots of kids feeling joy right now realizing it is unlikely they’ll have to go to school the next few days.
I know snow can be messy and dangerous but I love it. It is so beautiful! Things are rather dreary around here unless it snows so I look forward to times like these. We are supposed to get several inches of snow over the next couple of days. Like the kids I’m hoping we get lots, just for different reasons–I love photographing in the snow!
Several years ago I remember reading a sermon where the writer talked about how snow does its work silently. You can go to bed at night and wake up the next morning with several inches of snow on the ground but it is unlikely you would have heard a thing. You would have had no warning. Snow works quietly.
In the spiritual life there is much need for quietness. In fact, the prophet Isaiah said “in quietness and trust is your strength.” (30:15) Noise and lots of action tends to characterize most of our lives. Certainly there is a time and place for both, but there is also a great need for us to spend time in silence and being still. God himself says to us, “Be still and know that I am God.” (Psalms 46:10) I think the reason He told us this is that it is next to impossible to get to know God unless we do take the time to practice stillness in our lives. In times of solitude and stillness we find the strength we need to live the spiritual life.
The snow that is falling outside my window now offers me a needed reminder—even in this busy and hectic time of the year I need to find time to “be still” and quiet so that I might experience God more fully and find my strength renewed. By doing so I suspect I will also discover joy.
(I took the picture above at my home last week.)
Today is the second Sunday in Advent. In worship this morning we lit the candle of peace. The timing is good. It seems tension is escalating on numerous fronts. Many are worried over what will happen in Korea. That peninsula is hardly the only hotspot. At the present time there are eight ongoing wars that claim at least 1,000 lives per year and 22 smaller-scale conflicts where countless others die. Even where there is no literal killing there is still much conflict. Many have noted in recent months how our society has become marked by animosity and conflict. You see this in Congress, among ethnic groups, in many churches and families. We may hear a lot about “peace on earth” these this time of year but finding it is another thing.
For me peace is found first and foremost through my relationship with Christ. In him I have found what the apostle Paul called “the peace that passes all understanding.” I cannot help but believe that if people took more seriously the life and teachings of Jesus that there would be far more peace in the world.
The other place I find my greatest peace is in the natural world. Perhaps this is because the world was fashioned by the Prince of Peace. I’m not real sure why it is, I just know that in Creation my nerves are soothed and my tensions often find relief.
Yesterday we got our first measurable snow here in the mountains of eastern Kentucky. Everything has been blanketed in white and looks so beautiful. At my home the birds flocked to the bird feeder outside my bedroom door. By opening the door and sitting on my bed I was able to photograph the birds you see here. I found this very relaxing and was reminded of something John Muir once wrote. He said, “Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.” Yes, there is a peaceful side to nature that can calm even the most troubled soul.
I suspect there will always be conflict and tension in the world. For that reason I remain grateful for the peace Christ and his Creation bring to my life. If people would spend more time in their presence I suspect there would be far more peace on earth than there is right now.
“He spreads the snow like wool and scatters the frost like ashes.” Psalm 137:16
Here is southeast Kentucky we have gotten far more snow than normal lately. Rob tells me that along with the deluge of rain to the coastlands of California, the higher mountains are being laden with snow.
When it comes to snow most people either hate it or love it. The Bible, however, sees snow as a gift of God. In most instances snow is beautiful to behold but it also serves many useful purposes. Snow, like rain, brings moisture to the earth. Snow provides protection for some animals and enables others to reach food sources they might not otherwise be able to get to. To some it will sound strange but snow also provides insulation to both plants and animals that enable them to survive frigid conditions.
Humans tend to judge most things—like snow–by whether they benefit us or not. This is just another example of our anthropocentric tendencies. It seems clear that many of God’s gifts in nature are not primarily intended for us. He sends rain and snow not just for the benefit of man but for all of His Creation.
I think it would prove helpful if we periodically tried to look at the world from different perspectives. For example, we could consider how plants might “view” rain or how animals might “look at” clouds. By pursuing this exercise I suspect we would come to see both the wisdom and goodness behind God’s Creation. We would likely also come to appreciate more the “web of life” so many naturalists have spoken of and recognize the hand of God behind it.
The image above was taken at Arches National Park last month. Such beautiful formations are made possible by wind, rain and snow. Hopefully I’ll remember that the next time I’m tempted to complain about some of the inconveniences that come with snow.
A large magnolia tree grows in my backyard. It is a southern magnolia, a widely recognized symbol of the South. Despite the fact that the trees’ leaves have to be constantly raked and have a knack for finding their way into our swimming pool, I’m glad the tree is there. The tree is a beauty to behold and each spring and summer its flowers remind me of an important spiritual lesson.
Even though I have been a Christian for 43 years and a minister for 33, I am still a sinner. Maybe it’s because I am a minister who feels like he should know better, but when I do sin I feel really guilty. If I’m not careful I can get quite discouraged and let my guilt drag me down. Thankfully I find some reminders in nature that help me to recall a greater reality—my forgiveness.
In Isaiah 1:18 God says “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.” It is indeed my conviction that because of what Jesus did for us at Calvary “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1). The beautiful white magnolia blossom (like the one pictured here and photographed yesterday) is for me a symbol not just of the South but of God’s amazing grace. It, like snow, is there to remind me of my true status before God—I am a sinner saved by grace! To quote the late Jerry Clower, “Ain’t God good?!”