Cardinal in a Coal Mine
As the heart of winter nears, we human beings are alone among all God’s creatures in how busy we try to be. Bears hibernate. Squirrels hunker down in their nests with their horde of oak nuts. We humans work overtime and schedule exams. No wonder we can feel a little stressed out this time of year!
I’m fascinated by the ways that animals handle the cold, short days of winter. A few years ago, my wife Sarah brought home a book called All Creation Waits: The Advent Mystery of New Beginnings by Gayle Boss. There are 24 little chapters about how a variety of critters cope with the harshest months. The coping strategy of the cardinal is unique. While other animals shed colorful plumage and put “function” ahead of “form” for survival purposes, the cardinal remains clad in scarlet glory even through the depths of winter.
In order to cling to his color, the cardinal must consume the right kind of food, scarlet foods: berries that persistently hang on dogwood trees, rose hips, and wild grapes all help. But the cardinal must cling in other ways, too, because of how he attracts the attention of hungry birds of prey and other predators. While the rest of the world goes gray, the cardinal alone stands a bright reminder that spring will come. Days will lengthen. Life and an explosion of growth are just ahead.
I frequently walk along the banks of Salt Creek to view the winter sunrise. Waterways are the veins and arteries of the natural world. While not the most beautiful waterway I’ve ever seen, life abounds along Salt Creek. Within a half mile of our church I’ve seen owls, beavers, white-tailed deer in full horn, even river otters. The other day nature presented something I had never seen before, a flock of cardinals. Not just a one or a pair, but at least a few dozen cardinals cutting a red streak across the beige, withered landscape. Their colorful display caused me to laugh out loud. I took it as a sign of hope and life!
As the Christmas holiday approaches, I would suggest that Jesus himself is like a cardinal.
In the midst of this broken world’s darkness and disorder, Jesus stands out. The colorful nature of his conception, his coming to earth, and his Christ-ish behavior all draw our attention and calls us in. And like the cardinal, he is a sign of a season that seems so far off in mid-winter: a season in which spring (resurrection!) will come. Days will lengthen. Life and an explosion of growth are just ahead.
May the Blessing of Christmas Color and the Scarlet of Jesus Christ be yours,