Don’t Miss Autumn…I mean “Fall”

Ah, what a magnificent morning! I do love autumn! With George Eliot I would sing,

“Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns!”[1]

Autumn is not the word we always use for this “delicious” season, but I prefer to use the word “autumn,” rather than “fall” (even though I feel a bit highbrow in saying it, even somewhat guilty). Given its etymology, and my own Anglo-Saxon past, I should, I guess, feel guilty! The old English word used was a word that became the word “Harvest.”[2] This was a very good, raw-boned Saxony word to describe this season between August and November when the moon was closer, bigger and more orange than white or yellow. “Spring is for lovers” has always been challenged by that one romantic reality of this season. The air chilled, the days were getting shorter, a change was underway, but the single greatest feature of the season in the Celtic and Anglo-Saxon lands was the harvest of the maturing crops. Life revolved around the “hærfest” and the season so-called was much beloved and feted with dances by moonlight and Celtic strings and drums making noise to the highest, while lads and lassies paired off and hid behind barns overflowing. So calling this season by that name, “hærfest,” was plain, right, understandable, sensible, and uncomplicated. Harvest. Period. Then 1066 happened. The Normans came with what the French considered to be a superior language. The common words like “pig” stayed the same, but the courtly conversationalists could in no way tolerate such brute Old English, and so what was served in the banqueting halls became “pork.” The same happened for “cow” (Old English word for that Holstein in the field) and “beef” (the more sophisticated word for that savory dish on the plate). “Harvest” has a similar evolutionary history.[3] Thus, by the Sixteenth century the Normal “autumn” was in vogue.[4] But the Celts and the Anglo-Saxons began using another Old English word. Stubborn and defiant to the Norman influences, they adapted the Old English word for “fallen” to describe the harvest season.  “Autumn” persisted, however, in the courts and in the more educated and literary circles, but the common man used the word “fall.” As the migration to North America happened in the Seventeenth century, and continued into the 18th and 19th centuries, “fall” fell out in Britain, but landed squarely in leafy New England. The Old English (with Norse or German origins) had won out. Except for the more literate or poetic attempts, as in our own American poet Sandburg, who spoke of “sunny autumn hills,”[5] it was and is now “fall” in America. So Robert Frost was truer to our New World etymology at this point when he wrote,

“O HUSHED October morning mild, Thy leaves have ripened to the fall; Tomorrow s wind, if it be wild, Should waste them all.”[6]

But whether autumn or fall or even harvest, it is my favorite season. Is it yours? I suspect it is for many of you.

Yet in the Word of the Lord, autumn, or fall, (there are two words used for it in the Hebrew as well [it seems everyone is trying to figure out what to call this season]) is associated with a season not to be missed, but too often is!

For instance, “autumn” is expressed in the Hebrew with the word, “chorep,”[7] in Proverbs 20.4:

“The sluggard does not plow in the autumn; he will seek at harvest and have nothing” (Proverbs 20.4 ESV).

In Jeremiah 5.24, the prophet chastises the people of God for missing the opportunity to praise God for autumnal rains (“yoreh”).[8] Thus,

“They do not say in their hearts, ‘Let us fear the LORD our God, who gives the rain in its season, the autumn rain and the spring rain, and keeps for us the weeks appointed for the harvest’” (Jeremiah 5.24).

In the New Testament Jude describes false teachers who are like phthinopoœrinos:[9] “fruitless trees in late autumn, twice dead, uprooted” (Jude 12).

The resulting divine instruction is undeniable and convicting: “Don’t miss fall!” “Missing fall” is a sin that comes from three sinful and God-neglecting impulses that could be summed up in three words, alliteratively placed:

  • Procrastination
  • Praise
  • Poverty.

The first word that describes how we can miss fall is the word “procrastination.”

The sluggard of Proverbs 20.4 missed fall because he procrastinated and didn’t plan for it. He missed fall and therefore had no harvest. The harvest was not only a sign of taking advantages of the divinely given blessing of spring and summer, but foolishly ignoring the coming winter! Thus he was destined to hunger and begging when the first bitter cold winds swept through the countryside like a nor’easter in a Maine November. All the harvest would be in for those who planned, but the procrastinator, the sluggard, would be like the lost souls who were outside of the ark in Noah’s day: drowning, in this seasonal example, in their own folly. They missed fall. So, too, of course, you can miss the covenant blessings, as a child, of Gospel teaching. You can ignore the devotional readings of your father and mother, the week-in and week-out instruction of that godly Sunday-School teacher in the fourth grade, or the kind, old deacon who taught the Confession of Faith in the eighth grade. You can miss fellowship in your college years with other Christians. You can ignore the gathering together with the saints in worship on the Lord’s Day as a young adult, saying to yourself that you are working too hard, and “Sunday should be NFL day” or “family day” or “fun day” or “sleep day.” You miss the planting of the Word in the spring and summer of life, and then what? Well, autumn has to come. It cannot stay spring or summer forever. In fact it will not. And there is another season, a harsh season, perhaps, left to go. What will you do then?

Thank God that in Jesus Christ, every season is the season of His grace, as John Donne preached it.

“…Now God comes to thee, not as in the dawning of the day, not as in the bud of the spring, but as the Sun at noon to illustrate all shadowes, as the sheaves in harvest, to fill all penuries, all occasions invite his mercies, and all times are his seasons.”[10]

So in Jesus Christ, autumn sluggards can repent. Their empty baskets can be filled, if not with a lifetime of preparation for harvest, for the days of illness, for the certain days of loss and heartache in this old world, at least with faith to walk through it. They are not given over to the dead, cold winter.

Don’t waste fall. Put the till to the soil. “Come and follow me,” says the Lord. “Today is the day” and “now is the accepted time.”

The second word that describes how one can miss the blessings of fall is the word “praise.”

In the case of the Hebrew children they missed the opportunity to praise God for autumn. In their “hearts,” they did not say, “let us fear the LORD our God” (Jeremiah 5.24). Surely they worshipped at the temple in Jerusalem. Surely they kept the observances of the year. Yet Jeremiah’s indictment of his brethren was that they failed to reverence God in their hearts for “the autumn rain…” They missed fall because they lacked genuine praise for the God of autumn.

When our son was but an infant, and Mae and I were taking turns waking up, feeding him, rocking him, and pretty much living life through the hours of the night in “shift work,” she would tell me, “remember, soak it up. Don’t let it slip by without appreciating it. This time will soon pass. He will not be an infant always. Cherish the moment.”

”Cherish the moment.” This is what the people of Judah failed to do. It brought judgment. It brought loss. It brought exile.

Don’t miss fall. I would say to you, not just “praise the Lord for autumnal rains, and the red maple and the yellow maple and the burning bush and the yellow mums,” but recognize that all things are moving towards His purposeful ends. This is, after all, a season. He is giving you blessings that are meant to keep you through to the end. Praise Him for his saving power, his keeping power and live a life that says, “I will cherish the moment,” or more Biblically, “this is the day the Lord has made and I will rejoice in it.” This season of your life will soon be gone. A new season will come. The old is passing away and the new is coming. Don’t miss fall. Take time to praise Him, to love Him, to open your “heart,” the fullness of your being, to your Creator.

The third word comes from the description of horrid false prophets in the bombastic book of Jude. It is the word, “Poverty.”

Jude warns the people to beware of those whose teachings leave you bare. These wicked teachers are seductively drawing the people of God away from the truth and when harvest time comes their teaching is proved to be withered and worthless as a dead fruit tree in the fall. There is nothing more delicious that a crisp apple in the fall. There is nothing more devastating to an apple farmer to find an apple tree to be dead in the fall. According to the verse, in our example, the apple tree was dead in the first place. It appeared to be part of the productive grove, but in fact was never alive. The farmer, in this case, not only has nothing, but he has cultivated a tree that could not produce anyway. What a waste. What poverty is now upon him. His tree that was to give him fruit, give him income, give his own family sustenance for the coming winter is worthless.

So too, Jude is telling us, the false teaching that appears to seductively attractive, with its promises of health and wealth, or intellectual satisfaction, or mystical highs, is a dead tree that will not produce a thing when you need it most. Such religion is thus ‘twice dead.” I see Christians today who have banked their future on the novel, the new, the modern, and the fashionable offerings of religion. I have seen others return to an old dead root, that looks alive but is dead; a religion that promises historical continuity, which we all desire, but which connects us to a religion that is far from the simple message that your Mrs. Ferguson taught you in the far away days when that old Baptist school bus picked you up for the new fall Sunday School. How did she put it?

“Children, our Lord Jesus died for your sins. That is what John 3:16 teaches us. When we repent from our old ways, and are born again by His Spirit in us, we become his children. All of this is possible because of His perfect life and because of His death on the cross. Won’t you trust Him now, children? Won’t you pray with me to receive Jesus into your life today?”

Don’t waste her words, or however that message came to you. Don’t waste fall. If you do, if you trade the simple Gospel of salvation by faith alone, through grace alone, in Christ alone, according to the Scriptures alone, you will die in your sins. You will miss the eternal new season of life in the new heavens and the new earth. Winter will come and devour you in your poverty. No religion of this world can stop the winter from coming. Only Christ can, Narnia-like, transform that next season into eternal spring.

So I will help my wife plant the mums today. I will savor the changing colors of the trees. I will breathe in the autumnal air and appreciate the latter rains. I will pray that I will not waste autumn.

I say “autumn,” but the old Celt in me says, “Resist the Middle English Normandy courtly language. Put it plainly, Lad! Come back to the old paths!”

All right then. By God’s grace, and through the power of His Spirit, I will not procrastinate but will purpose to worship Him with all of my life; I will not miss the signs that call me to praise him for His goodness; and I will, God help me, to take in that good Gospel teaching that brings fruit to living and I will seek the simple and faithful teaching of my Savior, Jesus Christ, and run from the seductive powers of this world, seeing the ruin that religiosity leaves in its wake. I will disdain the courtly. I will embrace the simple. I will, oh assist me living Savior. I will not miss fall.

“O Lord, how I do pray on this October Sunday, let us not miss fall.”

Endnotes

[1] John Walker Cross, George Eliot’s Life as Related in Her Letters and Journals, Three vols., vol. 1 (Edinburgh and London: William Blackwood and Sons, 1885).

[2] See © 2001-2010 Douglas Harper, “”Harvest”,” Online Etymology Dictionary (2010). http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?search=h%E6rfest&searchmode=none (accessed October 1, 2010); ibid.

[3] For a good insight into the transition from Old English to Middle English, listen to Seth Lerer, Life and Writings of Geoffrey Chaucer (Chantilly, VA: The Teaching Company), Audio CD.

[4] © 2001-2010 Douglas Harper, “”Autumn”,” (2010). http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=autumn (accessed October 1, 2010).

[5] Carl Sandburg, Smoke and Steel (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Howe; Bartleby.com, 2000. www.bartleby.com/231/. [Date of Printout]. 1920).

[6] Robert Frost, A Boy’s Will (New York,: H. Holt and company, 1915).

[7] Chorep, in Key Dictionary of Hebrew and Aramaic,  (Accordance Bible Software 8.0).

[8] yoreh, ibid.

[9] In The Analytical Greek Lexicon; Consisting of an Alphabetical Arrangement of Every Occurring Inflexion of Every Word Contained in the Greek New Testament Scriptures, with a Grammatical Analysis of Each Word, and Lexicographical Illustrations of the Meanings. A Complete Series of Paradigms with Grammatical Remarks and Explanations, (London,: Samuel Bagster and sons; reprint, Accordance Software).

[10] John Donne, sermon, “St. Paul’s Christmas Day in the Evening,” LXXX. Sermons (2), 1640 (see http://www.msgr.ca/msgr-3/john_donne_sermon_10.htm).

References

The Analytical Greek Lexicon; Consisting of an Alphabetical Arrangement of Every Occurring Inflexion of Every Word Contained in the Greek New Testament Scriptures, with a Grammatical Analysis of Each Word, and Lexicographical Illustrations of the Meanings. A Complete Series of Paradigms with Grammatical Remarks and Explanations. London,: Samuel Bagster and sons. Reprint, Accordance Software, 8.0.

Cross, John Walker. George Eliot’s Life as Related in Her Letters and Journals. Vol. 1. Three vols. Edinburgh and London: William Blackwood and Sons, 1885.

Frost, Robert. A Boy’s Will. New York,: H. Holt and company, 1915.

Harper, © 2001-2010 Douglas. “”Autumn”.”  (2010). http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=autumn [accessed October 1, 2010].

Harper, © 2001-2010 Douglas. “”Harvest”.” Online Etymology Dictionary (2010). http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?search=h%E6rfest&searchmode=none [accessed October 1, 2010].

Key Dictionary of Hebrew and Aramaic. Accordance Bible Software 8.0.

Lerer, Seth. Life and Writings of Geoffrey Chaucer. Audio CD. Chantilly, VA: The Teaching Company, 2009.

Sandburg, Carl. Smoke and Steel. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Howe; Bartleby.com, 2000. www.bartleby.com/231/. [October 3, 2010]. 1920.

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About Michael Milton, Ph.D.

Michael A. Milton, Ph.D. (University of Wales, Trinity Saint David's College), is an American Presbyterian pastor, theologian, and author. He is, also, an alumnus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
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