Paul was languishing in prison and knew that this was his end times. He told his understudy Timothy that he had run the race and finished the course, admonishing him to preach the Gospel being watchful and alert for detractors and false teachers. I can imagine Paul, cold in a stone cell with winter approaching, no warm clothes or the scrolls to read, no encouragement. “Make every effort to come before winter…for I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure…I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2Timothy 4:9,13).
As I walked outdoors into the pre-dawn darkness today, the stars were bright in the sky, the wind was howling adding to the burn of the single digit temperature. Winter was finally here after above average weather for the last month. The ground crackled and crunched as I walked the back trail around the pond out back. The trees creaked as they swayed in the wind, eerily adding to the starkness of the day.
Come before winter is a lonely call for help and companionship. It is a common call this time of year for people alone for the holidays, without visitors in a hospital, frightened by bad news from the doctors. This is the corridor I walk as a hospital chaplain. My role is to bring warmth from the cold and cheer or encouragement in the storm. Sometimes it just doesn’t work as fears and pains are great and go back for decades of abuse or illness.
Life is hard. Sometimes the ice gets thick and can’t be broken, sometimes it’s thin and we fall through. Our cloaks don’t always block the wind. Do we slip into the icy depths or is there a rope or hand reaching out to keep us from falling? Can you hear Jesus saying, don’t fall asleep, stay and pray with me. But they didn’t.
The snows of winter begin to fall, piling up to many feet in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. A car could go off the road and not be found. Half-tracks and snow machines are the only viable means of transport. By Christmas the snow is to the roofline and tunnels lead to the front door. It won’t melt until nearly June, drifting upwards to 20 feet, like the waves of Lake Superior crashing, dark and freezing. David, in pain over his sin with Bathsheba prays for his indiscretions as red as crimson would be purged, washing him whiter than snow. He was finally shaking in fear and repentance without relief.
But God can bring a thawing, a hot cup of grace and mercy from the storm. Yet, maybe it’s too late like for the Edmund Fitzgerald as the gales of November came early, crushing the giant freighter and sending the crew into the cruel depths off Whitefish Point in Lake Superior.
Even in the darkest hour and transgression, God has come to bring redemption and healing. We just need to confess and repent, and God will forgive and renew us. There is no valley too dark or sea too deep for His hand to reach out and take us up like he did Peter on the water or David from his stained scarlet to carved ivory.
Come in your winter to the only One who can bring you out alive. No life jacket or rope will save you. No attorney or writ can represent you. Only the Christ of Christmas who died on the Cross of Easter and rose and ascended for you can bring you out. Come before winter.