Restlessness prods me out of the warm cocoon of quilts, and the cold quickly seeps around my ankles as I look out the east window. Objects outside recede into the pre-dawn, except for one light glowing across the street: hanging on a neighbor’s door, is an evergreen wreath tied with a red bow and encircled with tiny lights. The wreath is small, the lights insignificant, but in contrast to the darkness, it glows bright like a beacon.
It is winter solstice and I watch and wait in the waning moments of the longest night of the year. The neighborhood still sleeps. The world waits with me, it seems, in silent submission to the darkness.
My thoughts turn to loved ones, who bear the weight of darkness:
those who grieve, whose sadness is a constant companion, a fog of melancholy surrounding them.
those who endure chronic pain, whose cries for relief are met with little comfort
those who battle ongoing illness, whose hope for renewed health is all that allows them to tolerate the assault of treatments
those who suffer physical injury and struggle for restored function
those who are overcome by the onslaught of uncertainty and insecurity of joblessness
those who feel invisible, isolated, fearful, and diminished by social oppression
those who are far away from loved ones, whose true home is not where they live.
A dog barks down the street and the sound nudges me from meditation. The horizon has gradually become lighter, unfolding into gray shadows. I hear the geese before I see them, honking in ‘vee’ formation above me, headed east. A hawk rests in the top of a bare cottonwood, silhouetted against the dawn sky. High clouds obscure the first beams of sun, diffusing the light, easing the earth into a new day.
I notice that the earliest morning light begins to blend with the glow of the holiday wreath across the street. Christmas is only a few days away.
Every Christmas of my life, I have observed the season of Advent, the Christian time of preparation for Christmas. I’ve read the scriptures, lighted the candles, studied Jesus’ birth story, sang the carols, attended church services and I know the words and symbols and rituals by heart. Has the story grown old? Has the celebration become ordinary, the meaning grown timeworn? For me, the miracle of Christmas is this: although the story of the nativity remains the same, experiencing all that life brings over the course of a year changes me, so I come to Advent a different person, with the chance to learn the ancient story with new perspective. This year I journey toward the manger, resisting the power of darkness.
Today I watched as dawn gently chased away the longest, darkest night of the year. Tonight, the time of darkness will decrease by an unnoticeable fraction, and the next night, it will decrease again. Christmas arrives at winter solstice, right on time, when we most need the light. And in that Christmas Light, the most extravagant expression of love ever known that shines for us like a beacon in the night, we find hope that the darkness will not overcome.
Merry Christmas, my friends. May the Light bring hope to you.