The snow is falling outside.

We waited in expectation all morning, peering out the windows, gathering food and provisions like squirrels for the winter. The sky was heavy and gray, prophecying. The air bit with cold. The windows felt icy to the touch.

And now that the snow has come, all things wear a shroud. The street is quiet, the house shadowy, and white lights glow on the Christmas tree. I’m whisked back to my childhood in New England, where the church steeples rose high and pointed in the towns, and snow lay thick on the branches of the evergreens. In its womb of snow, the world seems smaller, safer.

We talk in whispers, unwilling to mar the silence. We are Hermits, trapped in our cell. There’s no going out. It is a lovely entrapment, like when I used to build snow caves as a girl. I would crawl in and the world vanished. And the risk of a cave-in (“you know, children have suffocated …”, the voices of the adults echoed in my mind) sent delightful thrills down my spine. I was risking death just to carve out a space for myself.

Questions stir in the space of the silence: what does it truly mean to be a Christian? Perhaps the hermits of old had somethingĀ  – hide away and listen quietly, try to discern the voice of the Divine. Bend over the Holy Scriptures and meticulously trace every word, lovingly, tremblingly. What is the true Christian life? Isaiah says it is to loose the bonds of wickedness … share your bread … bring the homeless into your house … pour yourself out for the hungry … satisfy the desire of the afflicted.

Heather is playing the old piano downstairs. Some notes are out of tune, some keys won’t strike. Nevertheless, “O Come O Come Emmanuel” sounds as beautiful and solemn as I ever heard it before.

O Come, Immanuel. Ransom the captives.