Waiting for Spring (We Are Hope! We Are Here!)

In high school I would often walk the big blue trash bin to the end of our street each week throughout the winter. Inevitably I would be too lazy to put on pants and would opt for soccer shorts instead—hoping that somehow it had turned to spring overnight.

By the time I reached the end of the street, winter would prove itself still very much alive.

I would step on the grass and listen as its bones broke beneath my shoe. Each step an earthquake for those frozen blades of grass; each moment another broken bone.

The world was covered in brown grass and frost-bitten ground.

But then sometime after Christmas on the walk back to my house from dropping off the big blue bin, I would notice one patch of green weeds poking out of the frost-bitten ground.

Weeds, the very plant we would pull from our gardens in a matter of months, would be the first indication that winter was over and spring was arriving.

*                      *                      *

While they were there, the time came for [Mary] to give birth. She gave birth to a son, her firstborn. She wrapped him in a blanket and laid him in a manger, because there was no room in the hostel.

If you have de ja vü, it’s because I used this exact verse last week.

And again, like last week, I am reminded that Jesus came small and insignificant. If Christmas is the sign of rebirth and hope in a world of winter, it was practically lost on the day of his birth.

Israel had lived an eternal winter. At the time of his birth, it had been 400 years since God had last spoken, and entire generations had come and gone without witnessing the promise of the coming Messiah.

Their world was covered in brown grass and frost-bitten ground.

Yet here baby Jesus was: a weed sprouting quietly from the ground in a town filled with people in bed sleeping—oblivious to his arrival.

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If I’m being honest, weeds aren’t the arrival I am hoping for.

I want thunder and lightning. I want storm warnings and rain that falls so hard I have to wring my shirt out. I want warm, comforting wind blowing down city streets like stampeding heavenly horses.

I want spring to tear winter asunder and produce Irish greens.

Bring the hail. Bring the storm. Bring the tumult.

Just bring the spring.

And one patch of weeds is not the spring I envision happening.

*                      *                      *

If I’m being honest, a baby in a manger isn’t the arrival I am hoping for.

I want the skies to split open and the ground to shake. I want heavenly horses stampeding out of the sky and down city streets like gusts of warm, comforting wind.

I want God to tear evil asunder and produce a party.

Bring the love. Bring the grace. Bring the justice.

Just bring my Savior.

And one small baby is not the savior I envision happening.

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And his heart gave a great leap (though he hardly knew why) when he realized that the frost was over.

-The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe

*                      *                      *

But what must it be for that small patch of weeds in the great expanse of frost?

Pushing through the frozen ground and taking first looks into the blinding sunlight of morning must not be an easy feat. I imagine grunts and groans and difficulty.

I imagine winter’s waning grimace threatening to shove them back into the ground—to turn them brown and crunchy like the rest of the grass around them.

I imagine them fighting back, and I imagine the rest of spring waiting in the wings, cheering them on. White, cumulous clouds holding their breath and oxygen-rich leaves flapping in signs of solidarity.

I wonder if the world around them shouts with joy as they fight and tremble and cry into the winter their arrival.

We are hope! Here we are!

*                      *                      *

There were sheepherders camping in the neighborhood. They had set night watches over their sheep. Suddenly, God’s angel stood among them and God’s glory blazed around them. They were terrified. The angel said, “Don’t be afraid. I’m here to announce a great and joyful event that is meant for everybody, worldwide…”

The silence of the night of Jesus’ birth was punctured by the heavens erupting in joyous song in front of a shepherd audience.

The shepherds were among the poorest of the poor inhabitants of winter’s viceroy, unholy and unworthy members of the never-ending frost.

However, Christmas arrived like weeds at the end of winter and the skies erupted in front of God’s chosen people.

The shepherds and the heavens erupted in praise, ran to Bethlehem, and leaned over a manger with breath baited.

This little baby, this little weed of heaven, breath moving in and out and in again, was the hope of heaven, the hope of spring.

I am hope! Here I am!

*                      *                      *

Earth’s crammed with heaven,

And every common bush afire with God;

But only he who sees, takes off his shoes,

The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.

-Elizabeth Barrett Browning

*                      *                      *

I remember one day in high school I was having a hard day. It was one of those days every high schooler has where you feel awkward, like you don’t fit in and nothing makes very much sense.

It felt a lot like winter.

I remember I had just gotten a pair of red-and-black striped Vans for my birthday, and I was wearing them to school for the first time.

Because I was having one of those awkward-winter-days, I convinced myself that people wouldn’t like my shoes, and I became really nervous when I walked out of my first period class and into the unforgiving hallways of the high school.

Almost immediately after walking out of class, a kid I didn’t know very well (and someone who was known to be kind of a jerk), looked at me and then looked at my shoes.

I prepared for the worst.

“I like your shoes.”

I don’t remember the kid’s name, and I’m not sure we ever spoke again, but I will never forget how good that made me feel.

It was such a small and insignificant thing, “I like your shoes.” But to me it felt like fireworks.

I felt that same feeling again when my dad skipped a really fancy lunch my senior year of high school to take me to a fast food restaurant and listened as I talked about my winter.

Again when my friends prayed for me as I was having one of those awkward-winter-days in college.

And again the other day when one of my best friends sat outside a coffee shop and talked to me for almost two hours when he could have been doing a thousand other things.

These small and insignificant actions on other people’s part split the heavens of my head open and cause songs of  joy.

They are all weeds—pointing toward the great spring that is Christ.

I am hope! Here I am!

*                      *                      *

For Christ plays in ten thousand places, 

Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his

To the Father through the features of men's faces. 

-Gerard Manley Hopkins

*                      *                      *

And now I am left with the final question: how can I show up—however small—in someone’s life and point them to Spring?