“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” – John 1:5
Every year, about this time, I get a little sad when the Christmas lights go down. And this year I’m noticing it much more because, for the first time, I’m outside a lot more: three times a day, rain or shine, wind or snow, walking the rescue dog I brought home in October. It was a lot easier to walk her in December, when it seemed as though almost every house had a candle in the window, or a tree all lit up, something glittery hanging from the gutters or adorning the bushes in the yard.
I found myself, more often than not, bundling up and excitedly taking her out for our evening walk, anticipating the comforting glow of all those lights.
Now, there are only a few lone houses in our neighborhood that have decorations still up. Not that I can begrudge anyone their dark and empty windows – after all, this weekend I joined everyone else in reluctantly pulling boxes out of storage and putting away the wreaths and the ornaments for next December. But there was a lingering sadness this year, because – quite simply – I feel jipped. Shortchanged. Deprived.
My family, you see, spent Christmas Eve, and Day, and several days beyond, surrounding one of our own in the hospital as she struggled with a nasty parasite. We tried to be of good cheer when red Gatorade was the most festive food on her menu, when we carted bags of presents into her room to open over the course of the afternoon, taking breaks for naps and interruptions by the nursing staff.
I recognize that we were lucky, in all of this. Lucky that she got the care she needed, and her body is again strong and well. Lucky that I live amazingly close to this hospital, lucky that my parents were in town to juggle caring for my dog with taking shifts visiting our patient. Lucky that we had each other, and the prayers of so many, to support us through a hard week. Lucky that this was our first holiday in many years to be spent in this way.
But I’ll be honest: not much of that helped, on Christmas Eve. When I had been looking forward to it all year, to the gift of having family with me in my new ministry setting, of celebrating that holy night with my new church family. No, I could not see the light for the darkness. Could not feel the joy of Christmas for my worry about my family, for my exhaustion, for my fear.
I dressed for our services, pasted a smile on my face, and steeled myself to try and be merry. And then, something incredible happened. In the midst of our evening service, during our candle-lighting ceremony with quiet singing of Silent Night, I saw the light.
I saw it in a way that reached straight through me, that broke through my sorrow and my hurt. I saw it spread from person to person, felt it catch within me and grow. I watched as people whom I have grown in just a few months to know and love, turned to one another with a smile and shared their light. I saw it grow enough to flicker across the panels of stained glass on the sanctuary wall, felt it warm me through and through.
I realized, in that moment, in a way that I desperately needed to be reassured: the darkness cannot overcome the light. The light is here, in us, and we can carry it for each other, share it with one another, hold it out against each others’ darkness. No matter what I, or any of us, is going through, there is light enough for us. Light enough to burn away the darkness and the cold; light enough to give us another bit of faith and hope. Not just at Advent time, but all year round. When I see the lights going down in my neighborhood, I remember this, and I am grateful. Grateful for a church that holds the light for each other, and for their pastors too.
by Jen Christianson