This week marks the darkest days of the year in our hemisphere. It holds the longest nights, and frankly, it’s held some dark nights of the soul for me. Strained relationships and struggling children and heavy emotions don’t magically turn into happy holidays the week of Christmas. I think maybe we have these high hopes, these slightly unrealistic expectations of gleaming faces and shining eyes fa la la la la-ing around the tree, and when our humanness, our brokenness, casts a shadow over the Christmas lights, we feel extra ashamed of our darkness. We’ve been commercialized (that’s right, Charlie Brown) to think it’s a season for nothing but jolly. And when reality is more like chaos or crying or wanting to deck everyone’s halls on the days around Christmas, it feels like an ultimate fail.
I’ve tripped over some rough places this week, with my little family and within my own soul's faltering faith. All the days are not merry and bright, not for my family's little problems. Not for thousands upon thousands who this very festive week are fleeing for their lives on tiny boats; sick, separated from loved ones, and unsure if they will live to see tomorrow. Not for the family one county north who is spending the week of Christmas planning a funeral service for their two teen children/siblings. For a hundred varied reasons, it may not be the happiest season of all for you either.
I can’t figure out what to do with my own crooked places, let alone the massive grief the world is groaning under. But this is what I’ve realized this week of solstice, when our side of the world lays in the longest hours of night, when the whole world lays in sin and error pining: There is no Christmas without the darkness. We have to feel the fullest tilt away from the sun before we can make the turn towards Spring. There has to be rough places before we can appreciate them being smoothed, crooked places before we can rejoice in seeing them straightened. And we have to first feel the darkness before we can see how bright the LIGHT shines. We have to realize the darkness doesn’t just look like a casual grey cloud cover, either. It looks like a messy downpour, maybe even a tornado. It looks like tension and depression, grief and loss, sin and terror, dysfunction and doubts. It looks murky, ugly, maybe even impenetrable black.
But then Christmas:
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. John 1
Even the darkest nights of our souls, our relationships, our grief, our world, can’t hold the Light back.
A smoldering wick he will not snuff out. Isaiah 42
For those whose losses are too great, whose hardships have snuffed the bright belief from their hearts, and even for those of us whose flames tend to flicker on a completely still day, he cups his hands carefully around all our smoldering wicks. He won’t let the most miniscule spark go cold.
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has the light shined. Isaiah 9
Wake up. Put your face in the sunlight. God’s bright glory has risen for you. The whole earth is wrapped in darkness, all the people sunk in deep darkness, but God rises on you, his sunrise glory breaks over you. From Isaiah 60
Wherever this Christmas finds you, however bright or dim you’re feeling, I hope you’ll be warmed by a flicker of hope. I hope you’ll keep looking for the LIGHT. Maybe you’ll find it in the eyes of your child, sparkling as she sings “Good news! Great joy!”. Maybe you’ll find it in the glowing sunset, now a minute or two longer each day, pointing towards the hope of Spring. Maybe you’ll see it in the sparkle of fresh snow, or if you live in the Midwest, in the unseasonably warm days that are a constant invitation to step out into the sunshine and run free in the fresh air. Maybe you’ll see it in the nervous eyes of a loved one, offering a gift they’ve thought carefully about. Maybe you’ll see it in the giant full moon hanging low and bright, reminiscent of a star so many nights ago resting over the place where God became flesh so every soul could feel its worth.
Because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace. Luke 2