This time of year the sun doesn’t stick around. She plays with the clouds much of the day and much too early snuggles in tight beneath the blanket of night. Dawn arrives after cars have already puffed their morning warming rituals, and coffee drips before sun drops fall. This is the Christmas scene.
Every day in the month of December looks more like a desperate attempt to keep the lights on. Work days drag on, long hours come and go, and finally that bonus comes in that will pay for the coffee, the car, and the Christmas gifts. On the way home the radio plays its familiar joyous tunes, and lights sparkle from roof peeks to landings. We push back while darkness pushes in.
When I get home, my two-year-old daughter is waiting for me. With Christmas cookie icing colouring her lips like a pre-puberty make-up disaster she declares, “Daddy’s home!” Before I can even shake the snow from my boots, which seeks to hibernate in the cracked tread, she runs into the living room and says, “lights please.” I plug in the cord and we watch them sparkle, those colourful reminders of the light of the season hanging from darkened branches. At my house, the lights only come on once it’s dark out, which is far too early this time of year.
There is something about darkness and Christmas that go together. Santa always seems to head out on the darkest and coldest night of the year, that time when he can’t get his sleigh off the ground without Rudolph to guide him. I know, for myself, there have been time when I couldn’t get off the ground either. Those times when the paychecks don’t seem to agree with the bills. That moment when turkey dinner is ruined by smoke billowing from oven-door cracks. Those times when family gatherings are more about fighting than fellowship. Those times when family isn’t there at all—and if we’re honest, fighting with those we love is better than not seeing them at all. So we sit like little children staring out into the blizzard of our life wondering if Santa will even make it to our home this year.
At my house, we read the Christmas story before opening our presents. No, not the one with a flying sled and chimney weight-loss programs, but the message is much the same. The same dark night. The same tired and weary hearts. The same Christmas scene. As we sit by window sills, enraptured by the story, it isn’t the red glow of Rudolph’s nose that we look for. We are, instead, like wise men searching for a star, shepherds spotting angels, and like Mary and Joseph finding light in a darkened stable. Jesus, the light of the world, is born to a young couple at Christmas: a Christmas without family and friends around them. The only people there to witness the birth are strange and smelly folk.
The story resonates with me. It speaks to all of us, doesn’t it? Don’t we often feel like shepherds on some distant hill trying to keep our herd together: parents with an empty nest trying to hold onto the joy of the season even though our children, our own little herd, aren’t around us anymore. Maybe we see ourselves in the middle of nowhere. We are like wise men far from home padding through the desert with so many gifts to give and no one to give them to. We know we have the skills, but can’t seem to find a job. Perhaps we’ve just moved and can’t seem to find a way to plug into the community (feeling alone in the frozen desert of Northern Ontario). Perhaps we are Mary or Joseph with nothing but a leaky stable over our heads and no one seems to have any time or room for us.
There is something about darkness and Christmas that go together. But this is not where the story ends. There has never been a Santa without a Rudolph, never a shepherd without angels or wise men without a star, never a Mary without a Jesus, never a dark night without Christmas lights. My daughter knows this when we get home after a long day, the sun tucked under its covers. “Really dark,” she shivers as we go into the house. Then, “Lights, please.” She is enthralled with the star on top of our Christmas tree, and grabs hold of the hope sitting on my knee, listening to the Christmas story, waiting for the ‘happily ever after’ she knows will come before the book is closed. She knows this, and she is only two.
Whatever Christmas might look like today, there is always hope. Whatever we need saving from, there is always a saviour. It is when we face the deepest darkness that we see a great light. Might Jesus be that light for us this year. All we need is the faith of a child staring through the blizzard waiting for Daddy to get home. Faith enough to believe that when he walks through the door of our lives all we have to say is. “Daddy’s home!” and then run over to the darkest part of our life and say, “Lights, please.”