When It's Not All Merry and Bright
It is the weekend before Christmas and I wake to be greeted by pitch black. Not even the tiniest glimmer of light sneaks round the edges of my curtains. In the silence of the early morning, only the occasional sound of a muffled car can be heard in the distance. Winter Solstice was yesterday, the shortest day of the year, and the world pauses for its moment in the dark.
We are well-versed in what this season should look like (thank you, Mr Dickens!). We know there is meant to be a lavish feast, expensive presents, beautiful decorations. We are expected to be starry-eyed with wonder at the Saviour who came to earth as a little baby. All should be merry and bright.
But what if it’s not?
What if Christmas underscores our sense of loss? What if we’re grieving? What if we don’t have cute children to post pictures of in their nativity play? What if we’re lonely, hurting or unwell? What if we’re disappointed, weary and brokenhearted?
Christmas is a reminder that we are living in the already but not yet of God’s kingdom. The Saviour has come but is still to come. We’ve read the end of the book and we know our story has a happy ending. But we don’t know how it all works out yet and we still live amidst that pain and uncertainty.
I listened to a beautiful podcast the other day, about how the Celts would hang decorations on barren tree branches in winter because they knew spring was coming; about how the way to dawn is through the dark; about how we string up lights not to dispel the darkness, but to decorate it.
In the creation story, God separates the light from the dark, but he does not banish it. Instead, he sets a rhythm and a purpose for both light and the dark. Though we see by the light, we must have darkness to sleep. While we reap in seasons of light, we must let the seeds we plant have their beginnings in the dark. If we want to experience the brilliance of resurrection, we must first know the shadow of death. Darkness and light: both are necessary.
So this Christmas, I’m thinking about how to decorate the dark. What can I string up around me to embrace the season I’m in? Which small actions and activities will bring comfort and healing? How can I welcome what is now, even if it is painful?
In the darkness before the dawn, I turn over, wrapped up, womb-like and warm in my blanket, close my eyes and let my body and mind sink deep into rest.
If you’d like to listen to the podcast I mentioned above, it’s from the Robcast, Episode 222, Alexander Shaia on Darkness and Hope. You can listen here, or anywhere good podcasts can be found.