Summary: A Christmas sermon from the angle of Vivaldi's four seasons.
Poets and artists have always been interested in depicting the seasons of the year. There’s a beauty known only to each season which engages and sparks the imagination to creativity. In 1725, Vivaldi composed his most known work The Four Seasons, the texture of each concerto resembling its respective season. Photographers love the seasons—their savage beauty and eloquent splendour. Poets love to paint pictures in the mind:
Spring brings us rainy weather, bright yellow tulips and cherry blossoms. It brings us hope.
Summer comes stealing in with its hot and humid often caressing breath while Fall lingers, patiently waiting in the wings with its golden leaves ready to quickly cover the ground in rich glorious colour.
Winter awaits with its first blast of cold. Sometimes arriving angry and harsh, hitting fast hard and vicious. But not always; sometimes Winter steps softly, quietly and lays its soft white blanket of snow over cities like a loving mother covering her child.
In my circle of friends, Winter is footy and netball, summer is cricket and the beach. The in-between seasons are like a waiting room for the main game. Putting aside the tackiness, we can even speak about the seasons in our lives. Just as there are seasons—Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter—we each experience seasons in our lives.
There is ‘a time to be born’—this is the Spring of our lives when we are young and needful of teaching. Our parents teach us in ways that build our character. We usually learn from our parents their moral ethics and codes. Our teachers at school also form our character by building upon our abilities in different subjects throughout our years in school. The more we study, the more we learn in which ability we are stronger.
Then there is ‘a time to plant’—this is the Summer of our lives when we go about using what we have learnt in the Spring of our lives. We get out of school/college, we get a job in which we can demonstrate our talents. We may even get married and raise a family. The Summer of life is often the best time of our lives when we accumulate lasting life experiences.
Next is ‘a time to pluck up’. Harvest times comes in the autumn of life. We draw on the resources we have ‘planted’ earlier in life. It’s like we are harvesting the vegetables from our garden which were planted for ‘another day’. Now it is time to pluck them up and put them to good use. The dictionary gives one of it’s definitions for ‘pluck’ as, ‘Resourceful courage and daring in the face of difficulties’. The autumn of life.
Lastly, there is ‘a time to die’. The Winter of our life is old age. To each of us there comes a time when material things no longer matter. My mum is in a nursing home. Everything she owns now fits in one room. It wasn’t always that way.
There’s a book in the Bible that captures the seasons of our lives. And this takes us one step closer to understanding Christmas. In Ecclesiastes 3, verses 1 and 2, the Teacher says, ‘To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven. A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted.
The Teacher ponders the endless cycle of seasons and he sees the burden that God has laid upon men and women. He knows that there are many seasons to be seen, but soon in death these cycles come to an end—and he wrestles for answers. He struggles with the futility of life. His conclusion is a droll one. ‘So I saw that there is nothing better for a man than to enjoy his work, because that is his lot. For who can bring him to see what will happen after him’? (Ecc 3:22).
Here we are, friends, standing on the verge of understanding Christmas. Do you see? The Teacher asks, ‘For who can bring him to see what will happen after him’? Who is it that has the answers to life and death? Who can look beyond the seasons of our life? Where is wisdom found? How can we find meaning in the futility of life?
The Teacher can do no-more than foreshadow the answer. At the end of his book, he speaks of the wisdom needed to understand life as coming from a Shepherd (Ecc 12:11). Israel understood the Shepherd as their King whose task it is to guide them in righteousness for the Lord’s sake (Ps 23:3). The Teacher looks to the King for answers. And then thousands of years later, on one starry night some shepherds are tending their sheep. And they are summoned by a company of angels to visit the Shepherd just born, a Shepherd who is Christ the Lord.