by Lucy Williams
“It’s so dark!” are the words I find myself uttering ever-more frequently as the days grow shorter and darkness begins to loom from three o’clock each day. I don’t like winter: the darkness in particular, but also the cold weather, the bare branches, the annual flu, general dreariness…
“But what about Christmas?!” I hear you say.
Perhaps for you, Christmas conjures up images of light, warmth, family, food and joy.
You’ll be pleased to know I’m not the actual grinch, and so (despite my dislike of the winter months) I do love Christmas time.
But, often Christmas isn’t the most wonderful time of the year. It can be a painful reminder of the now-empty place at the dining table, a lonely reminder that your family are miles away, or perhaps being at home just isn’t an easy experience.
Whether you find driving home for Christmas fills you with excitement or with sadness, anxiety or joy, I’d like to suggest that the beauty of advent lies in the fact that it falls at one of the bleakest times of year.
Perhaps I’m lamenting the winter season because when I think of winter, I picture last winter: Lockdown winter. The winter of isolating and hearing death reports rise daily. The winter where we could only see our friends outside, where the ground was frozen, and when it got dark at 4 o’clock. The winter when Christmas was cancelled and we were locked in for January. The winter where the world’s problems were more visible than ever.
It was impossible to ignore the darkness, the isolation, and the death that looms over our world.
Yet, in many ways, this echoes the true spirit of advent. It is a time of waiting and longing. It is a time of hoping.
The hope of advent isn’t a fluffy idea that lands in the same sentimental category as puppies, gingerbread houses, and hot chocolate (wonderful as those thing are). Hope is the belief in something better that has not yet been fully realised. This hope recognises the bitter cold reality and it is precisely within this context of dissatisfaction that it arises. To have this hope is to recognise that something about the present is not right; when our lives and our world is not as it would long for it to be, we cling on to something better.
Hope that evaporates in the midst of the worst circumstances is no hope at all.
Real hope means taking a deep look at the very worst of our world and seeing through to believe in better.
Often we try to deal with the darkness and brokenness of our world by ignoring it.
This is clearer than ever in the run up to Christmas as we busy ourselves with Christmas plans, parties, and presents. There is so much we can distract ourselves with, yet even the very best of Christmases won’t stop you from feeling the January blues…
The truth is that no amount of Christmas lights can change the fact that we live in a world marred by darkness: a world where pain and death are all too real.
Yet, there is a joy and hope in Christmas that doesn’t distract from this, but confronts it, and offers real consolation:
The one who could heal our brokenness and bring true light to the world has come to dwell with us. God came to face the darkness.
He was born in the darkness of the night, and lived only to die naked on a cross as “darkness came over the whole land” (Luke 23:44). Jesus, who claimed to be the “Light of the World” (John 9:4) experienced the darkness of thee earth more than anyone ever has or will. He did it to set us free from darkness, that we might walk in the light. He- the “Sun of Righteousness” (Malachi 4:2*)- welcomes all to come into his family and take a seat at his banquet (Revelation 19:9), fulfilling all our wintery longing.
That is why Christians believe Christmas truly is a time for celebration.
The light shines the brightest on the darkest nights.
This advent we don’t need to ignore the darkness around us. The hope that Jesus offers means we can face it, and if we do so, we may find the joy of Christmas is magnified all the more.
In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.John 1:4-5.
If you want to reflect some more, listen to this song linked below:
*These verse inspired the words of the hymn, Hark the Herald Angels Sing: “Hail… the Sun of Righteousness”