Winter! The freezing, the cold, the wet and the slippery were all around us for quite a while, for that is what the season brings in terms of what it takes to deal with the weather. Wrapped around what the elements brought were the things that highlight beauty, renewal, hope and wonder. It is truly a season of new beginnings and potential contained under the blankets of snow and ice. It was at once a trying winter season and one of hope reviving! I love the pictures of winter that you see in calendars, picture books and even the newspaper, lovely winter scenes and also scenes of humans struggling with what nature dishes out for us to walk or drive in. You have to be so careful!

All of this reminds me on another level of some spiritual realities that we live with. This is now the time of Lent. Halfway through this month Lent begins and we have a six week journey to Easter, a high and holy time when we remember the resurrection of Christ and what that means for us as we trust in him for our salvation. I can only imagine that it was dark and cold under the castle’s shadow on the night the light of God shone forth in the stable long ago. Evil was secure in its reign and so many walked lock step in the ways of slavery and darkness in a land under the boot of the occupying Roman Empire. Herod was firmly in control and his resolve to stay there was iron fisted and deep.

Then came the early cries of a newborn baby, one who would change the world as well as the outlook of slavery and hopelessness that prevailed in those dark times. We know the Christmas story very well, but we also know and see the bondage story that has played out in our lives, perhaps for many years and maybe still plays out in the lives of our children and grand-children. It is not a pretty story, it involved the wilting of potential, the falling of hope and the freezing of relationships from man to man and man to God and we find ourselves wandering in a cold and drifting landscape that is devoid of hope or comfort and lacks any indicator or landmark of where we might find the way home to the arms of the God who forgives and restores.

Many times, the story in people’s lives is one of drifting, desire and disappointment, as they wander in the aimless drifts of sin and the embers of spiritual life cool. The hopelessness and aimlessness that result is full of disappointment, pain and frustration as they lie imprisoned in the cold of sin. Christ came to warm the earth and to bring to life the potential only he can see and awaken in those who learn to trust in him and to respond to his grace.

The other day, late January, I was walking my dog along the street under the majestic boughs of the trees planted long ago. No warmth, no leaves, nothing green or hopeful… but then I noticed something! The buds on those frozen branches were swelling up and their potential could be seen all over the branches. This is the promise of spring and of a renewal of nature and the bursting forth of life to bring glory to God and praise to our lips.

I see God doing the same thing in the season of Lent. He helps us in our prayers, our worship and our meditations to look deeply into our sinful natures as well as into the powerful, healing depths of his grace. As we draw near to him in an attitude of meditation and of openness he draws us near to him. God enables us to respond to his grace, to share it and to once again recount and experience the story of “Amazing Grace”. He is the one who chose to come among us in the darkness of our sin and hopelessness. He is the one who shone the holy light of God’s presence, encouragement and love in our hearts. He is the one who chose to go to death for us so that we could find in his sacrifice the path to life, life abundant here on earth and life eternal when he calls us home to his glory.

Do you want a feeling and a picture of what that will be like as we wake to God’s call and as we become aware of his glory and the hope it brings? Just take a few minutes to ponder the words of the Prophet Isaiah in Isaiah 6:1-13. Verse 13 speaks of stump and seed. Let the holy seed of his word grow in you and daily put your hope in God.

Pastor Hank Bylstra