As you read this we are in the dark depths of a British Winter, and the high temperatures, blue skies, white fluffy clouds, warm breezes, buzzing insects and verdant landscapes of Summer seem worlds away now. Recollected on a chilly, dismal, short winter’s day such memories of warmth and light jar in the mind and carry more than a hint of the incredible about them. Was it really possible to wander about in shorts and a T-shirt?
Well it was, and on a hot day in high summer we were enjoying a glorious long walk in the Derbyshire countryside. As we strolled through a farmyard on our way down into one of the magnificent Dales this is what we discovered by the side of the well-trodden path. Christmas in August. It seemed incredible and really jarred in my mind because it was so unexpected and out of place. A natural cleft in the rock had been made into a grotto and there at its heart was a manger scene right out of a school nativity play. The promise of Advent was brought up close, face to face and out of time. It literally stopped me in my tracks. Only the battered metal gate propped across the entrance and held in place by a large rock suggested the inappropriateness of Christmas in August. It was not yet the time to enter in. But looking at the scene it was as though the promise reached out from the depths with a sense of deep longing and invitation to draw close and encounter this out of place and out of time reality.
Christmas truth met in August is a raw experience, stripped of the seasonal protection and numbing familiarity with which our culture wraps it up. It forces you to stop on the path and think. Not least as a Christian it makes me wonder what barriers we need to remove in order for others to discover the shock of God’s deep love for themselves and then enter into its personally gift-tagged truth? Can the Summer warmth of Grace burst unexpectedly into our cold Winter days? Advent prepares us for just this possibility. And on Christmas Day the gate is gone and the barriers are removed. Love is birthed in our midst. All you have to do is walk in and know it for yourself.