The sky is a dull slate. This morning the low slung cloud mass is neither soft nor friendly. It is silent and austere, without the refreshment of rain or the hope of the sun breaking through. Even the verdant growth seems a bit weighed down. Horses, great ghostly shapes in the mist, graze noisily and bury their soft noses in patches of sweet grass among the weeds.
The scene outside my window reminds me that even during the hay days of summer abundance and festive holiday excitement, there is pain. Islands of blessings soften the trials and realities of living in a broken world. But the hurt still hurts. Pain may even serve to enhance that which is gentle and beautiful, and does not need to be denied for us to be awake to beauty. Memories of sweet as well as bitter times often float to the surface during this season when the world celebrates, even if it seems uncertain of what exactly the purpose of the party is.
Earlier today, as I shook out my muddy mop into the crisp air, I noticed a movement in the wattle trees behind our home. Three rather large birds were faintly outlined in the mist. At first I mistook them for the trio of crows which have noisily taken up residence on Inesi. But then one took flight. The flash of scarlet was like a defiance of the grey canvas surrounding it. A shy forest bird, with wingtips dipped in crimson. Leaving a flash of colour behind in my mind's eye. The colour of joy, love and the very source of life itself.
This time of year is like a drug to some. A time when sorrow is drowned in overspending, eating, drinking and escaping to holiday haunts. Locking the doors to a year of stress and worry and putting distance between yourself and the cares, worries and mundane reality of daily life. But for some the pain does not back down so easily, like a fanged being who will not let itself be caged or abandoned. For some, there is the prospect of Christmas without a loved one, whether through death, distance, divorce or estrangement. Being surrounded by families - with children in rainbows of exuberance. A picture of a contented wholeness, but to some a cutting reminder of their own single state, of a barren womb, echoing passages of an empty house, a stalking sickness or a rejected love. Each heart carries a burden and each home has dark corners, which those who live there wish to avoid.
This time of year does not need to smack of that desperate need to get away from it all. The sucrose coating over a bitter pill does not alter its core. Oblivion is tempting, but temporary. And it always comes at a price.
But there was that red cord that dangled from a city wall, about to come crashing down. There were those doorposts painted with the blood of a spotless lamb, where the angel of death passed by on a grim night of reaping. The flash of red in a mist enshrouded wattle tree behind my kitchen window. Reminders of lasting hope. Free of cost.
For the price has been paid. With crimson drops of blood that dripped from a crown of thorns, onto the brow of a Man who embraced the pain, captivity and sinful state of all mankind. Which flows through all time and history to bring Life and hope where the world has failed to do so.
We can choose to turn to that hope when our own days become tinged with a sense of dread, regardless of the season to be jolly. Or to impart it to someone who is feeling overwhelmed, tired, fearful, hurting, longing, lonely, heartbroken. Jesus is the gift which will never loose its lustre. A gift we are all free to receive and give.
His is a heart which never stops giving, never stops loving, never needs to escape the pain of mankind. We can choose to have Jesus' heart, particularly in this time when sorrow is either the reason to flee or the reason to cling to the red cord of His saving grace, even when all else comes crashing down.
Morning dawns new for those who refuse to let go, who draw others to safety at the only true source of strength and eternal joy.
And what a joyful dawn it will be - whether you awake in a hospital bed or a luxury beach cabana. The same Son shines on us all. But we need to walk out into His presence. Think of a solar panel which soaks up even the smallest ray of sunshine, stores it up and when night falls, is able to draw on what it has absorbed and reflects it regardless of the dark.
The dazzling star of Bethlehem was witness to His birth. The fire-hearted sun ceased to shine at the moment of His death. The blinding glory of God burst from the grave as he shook off the death shroud and received the robe of victory from the Father. The eternal light of His love burns through the iciest chambers of a hardened heart.
We are His lanterns. True sources of light. He shines even when we fail to. Embrace the freedom of knowing - it does not depend on you. Even our most worthy efforts fall sadly short of God's glory. Let Jesus be the One to fill your lamp with the oil of gladness at this time. Let it light the Way, the footsteps of Him who goes before us, wherever we may go at this time.
For - "It is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life..." (Phil 2:15)