Unexpectedly, I open the curtains today to find a new world: my straggly end-of-season garden smoothed over by a thick blanket of snow. The forecast last night was ‘snow showers, maybe’, but every car in the road is a white lump, with occasional squares of tarmac where some hardy resident has dug themselves out and driven off. Everything looks different under the sudden change of season.
Further afield, though, and the seasons are mixed – trees still in autumn colours, thick snow on the ground and the sun sparkling on snow in the branches and sending a shining river of light across the surface of the lake. A glorious day, a day for standing in the surprising warmth of the sun and remembering the presence of God, everywhere.
On the first Sunday of Advent, the seasons also seem mixed. We have gone into purple and lit the first candle on the wreath, but the Scriptures at Mass are still looking towards the Second Coming and the end times, just as they were during the last weeks of Ordinary Time. And today’s reading from Paul – ‘let us appear in the light’ – is something which we would not be surprised to find during Lent. So the beginning of our new liturgical year is not a clear-cut new start, new ideas, new life, new resolve, but a continuation of something we are used to, with a sharper focus brought by a change of scenery.
That’s as it should be, because for most people the work of conversion is not a single, all-or-nothing event but something which takes time and many restarts. Snow when it falls looks clean and unmarked (‘so relaxed!’ cried the Franciscan sister from Kenya), but after a couple of days it’s trampled and worn through, melted in patches, its perfect surface disrupted – the way we can so often feel when things aren’t going well. But under the snow, there’s work going on, and when the time comes, our new growth will be seen…