“Hope keeps you spiritually alive during dark times of adversity; it brightens your path and heightens your awareness of My Presence.”
– Jesus Calling, December 15
Where I live in the mountains of southwest Virginia, Advent arrives with the beginning of winter.
Night gathers quickly
Night gathers quickly, with a deep darkness settling in by the time we settle around the table. The ground that only a few months earlier burst with life lies dormant, under a chill that never seems to lift. From the warmth of my kitchen, I look out the window to see my once-lush garden encrusted with ice, full of thick, heavy clods of earth, and littered with the remnants of cornstalk and pumpkin vine that twist up among the table scraps.
Bringing forth life
Closer to the house, ornamental beds of lily, hosta, and peony hide their delicate parts deep within the earth. The grape vine that climbed the arbor in summer and hung with clusters over us while we ate and drank in the sun, is bare, stripped and cut back in expectation of next season. Across the way, the fields lay in patchwork browns. I can see straight through the thicket of trees, their naked trunks and leafless branches as thin as wisps of hair on an aging head. It’s hard to believe that the earth ever brought forth life or that it ever will again.
But this season also brings the holidays, and so we do our best to be merry despite the landscape around us. We wrap bare limbs and sleeping bushes in brightly-colored lights, the miracle of electricity compensating for their previous buds and blooms. The wintering birds will get an extra helping of seed, and eventually, we’ll cut a tree and drag it into the front room. We’ll scour the woods for bits of green—Virginia pine, holly, eastern hemlock, and if we’re lucky, mistletoe—and drape them along the mantle, window sills, doorways, and banisters.
I wonder, though, if we’re really scouring for hope, searching for those small, steady promises that reassure us the gathering night is only temporary. I wonder if like the earth itself, we’re waiting, holding our breath in anticipation, longing to believe that something more is happening, that something more is coming. I wonder if we’re all just waiting for God to show up.
In Romans 8, the Apostle Paul writes that “that the creation eagerly waits with anticipation for God’s sons to be revealed . . . in the hope that the creation itself will also be set free from the bondage to decay into the glorious freedom of God’s children” (v. 21, HCSB). It’s a strange thing to think of the earth this way—even stranger that the earth would be our partner in hope, longing for freedom and life and glory as much as we do. But when I look out my window, when I see how much the world around me has changed in only a few weeks, when I see its lifeless stillness, I believe it.
Yes, the heavens declare the glory of God and the earth shows His handiwork just as. But when I see a mountaintop cut bare for the minerals beneath, or I remember the whirlwinds that level neighborhoods, or I watch the news as fires consume home and forest alike, I hear a groaning that mirrors my own. I hear a longing and a pain that cries out for redemption. And I find in nature an unexpected ally in the work of hope.
This season, as we celebrate the Creator who took on flesh and came to His creation, we do so in solidarity with an entire cosmos. Here in these moments of Advent and Nativity, heaven and nature sing, teaching a truth that we cannot know without the witness of both. It is a story of bodies and skies and beasts and trees—all waiting for the glory that will be revealed. It is a story of longing and incarnation, of the earth receiving a flesh and blood Redeemer, first as a baby and one day forever as its King.
Heaven and nature sing
And now you know why heaven and nature sing. Now you know why a chorus of “Joy to the World” is on our lips. Here in this season of Advent, with its quiet, pervasive witness to both life and death, when we’re most fully aware that only in the darkness can we become most fully aware of the light. Here, our cries for deliverance become songs of praise. And here, between what is and what will be, I am most convinced of the glory that must come. Because here, where Advent turns to Nativity, creation itself teaches us to hope in our creator, infant King.
About The Author
Hannah Anderson is an author and Bible teacher who lives in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia with her husband, Nathan, and three children. Her new book, Heaven and Nature Sing: 25 Advent Reflections to Bring Joy to the World (B&H Publishing, 2022) is available now.