Today is the last day of September and since last Tuesday we are officially in the season of Fall. Winter is creeping closer and closer to the door and much work must yet be accomplished before it arrives. Winter, with all of its beauty, also brings its challenges and even in Scripture we find reference to that.
Timothy, the first Bishop of Ephesus, was the ‘Son in the faith” of the Apostle Paul. Their friendship had formed in adversity and become strong through shared ministry. It is clear from the correspondence we have in Scripture that the two had a very deep, personal bond. St. Paul’s advice was invaluable to the young preacher who needed to get his feet wet in the ambiguity of the first century church. By the time Paul wrote his second letter to Timothy, he was an aged man, several hundred miles away from Ephesus and in prison in Rome. Paul’s letter concludes in chapter 4, verse 21 in that he asks of Timothy “Do your best to come before winter.” Paul had hoped that Timothy would come to Rome and spend time with him. Paul also instructed Timothy to stop on the way and pick up his books as well as a coat which Paul had left at a friend’s house.
It was still summer when Paul wrote this letter to Timothy—but winter would be coming soon. Roman prisons were not heated in winter. They were dungeons dug out under government buildings and Paul knew that he would be uncomfortably cold in the damp underground prison, with just ordinary clothing. In addition, back in those days, once winter set in—navigation was virtually closed on the Mediterranean Sea. It was dangerous for ships even to venture out to sea. Having been shipwrecked before, Paul knew what it was like to travel during the winter. He knew that if Timothy waited until winter had come, he actually would have to wait until spring—and if he waited until spring, it might be too late! Paul sensed that the day of his execution was fast approaching. To the best of our knowledge, Timothy did exactly as Paul had asked and remained with him in Rome until Paul’s death.
Do your best to come before winter! There are many things that need to get done before winter. We bring in the last harvest, we clean up our gardens, we ready the house with new filters in the furnace and perhaps extra protection around the windows and we get our long-sleeved shirts and heavy jackets from the back of the closet.
We do all this because we know that as soon as winter sets in, with cold temps, ice and snow, it will be too late and we will regret not having done what would have been proper and effective.
Indeed, much can happen between now and next Spring. Some of us will get sick, some of us will pass on to the Church Triumphant, some of us will make significant life changes like having a child, moving into retirement, file for divorce, change careers….
Do your best to come before winter! What a good word for us not to push aside or put off those things that we can do now while the leaves are turning, the mornings are brisk and the days are still pleasantly warm.
What must you do before winter sets in? Visit an old relative? Write that card or letter you have been putting off way too long? Settle old grudges? Decide to renew a friendship that has been on the rocks for years? Apologize to someone whose tears you have caused?
You know, we do not have all the time in the world – even if we fool ourselves into thinking we do. There will come the day when reconciliation, kindness, joyful outings with beloved people and time for reflection on God’s will, are no longer options. The Season of Winter reminds us that all of creation must die before life and rises up again in Spring.
St. Paul was right: had Timothy waited until winter was over, he would not have had the opportunity to learn even more from Paul or support him in his dying days. He would have missed out on the joy that comes with giving ourselves to somebody fully and without reservation. St. Paul, on the other hand, would have missed out on the comfort this ‘Son in the faith’ provided, giving Paul the deep assurance that his life had mattered not only as a preacher and defender of the faith but also as a man, a human being who needed kindness, presence and attention from those who loved him selflessly.
What do you need to do before winter comes? It will be here before you know it. Amen