We spent the day New Year's Eve with family near Des Moines. The year ended in central Iowa on a gray day with rain, falling termperatures, and finally snow. Driving away from the church hall, through the grey hills with blowing snow darkening the already dim light of late afternoon, we were in Winter.

Garrison Keillor, in one of his monologues, said that winter in Minnesota reminded us of our place in the universe--prey. I'm sure Garrison has read Jack London, the writer who can make you feel the searing cold of a Yukon night as temperatures plunge to 70 below. Life is always under threat in a Jack London story: Unable to kindle a fire, hands stiffening with cold, hope that if I can kill my dog and put my hands into his warm body I yet may live, but my dog will not come close to me, eventually leaving my stiffening body. Winter is death. Death always pursuing life: wolves howling about the dog sled hurrying across the frozen waste, with too few bullets for the gun. Death is what happens to humans in the Wild, death is what ends life; death freezes our foolish attempts to find meaning in the snowy vastness. This is London's message. (cont. below)

In the Dark Days at the end of December, we may fear that Jack London writes the truth; we are travelers in a frozen darkness, temporarily ahead of the wolves, but eventually to succumb to the cold oblivion. Maybe this is why we need colored lights and tinsel for these days.

The movie The Polar Express shows us also a journey through the cold and snow, ever northward, closer and closer to the center of the cold, beyond the last living trees. But instead of death, the passengers find wonder, light, and life. Elves in festive, solemn assembly for Christmas Eve, awaiting the numinous presence to come through the door, to take to the waiting sleigh, and bring joy around the world. Santa Claus, jolly indeed, but more than an old fat man: life in the midst of the cold dark, giving gifts, making the lights and dancing and music meaningful, real, because connected to a reality deeper than the cold dark.

What Santa Claus achieves in make-believe, the gospel proclaims God in Jesus Christ accomplishes in reality. In the midst of the dark, cold, deadly world, a deeper truth that contradicts the reign of death in the wilderness, giving meaning, giving hope, bringing wonder.

Have a blessed Christmastide. Frost and darkness and wolves are not the end of our story. We have more than make-believe. (For those of you who are Baptists, Christmastide is the traditional season of celebration of Christ's birth which begins on Christmas and ends on January 6--the 12 days of Christmas.)