“It feels like midnight when I go to work! Then, I’m just getting my day started, and it’s going dark already. And this endless rain! I can’t even tell if I’m supposed to be getting up or going to bed. Vancouver in December has got to be the worst.” Sound familiar?
Anticipating Christmas, like most, I also await the cosmic forces to finish tilting our world away from the light before slowly bringing her around again on her laborious orbit into the light. I know we will eventually get there, and rejoice, because it happens as faithfully as Christmas every year. It’s the waiting that bothers us.
Then, after two weeks of a December rain, you may wake up with a start at light seeping through the curtains. What’s this strange brightness? It makes you want to take an early walk. You see, in the first light, snow-topped mountains you’d forgotten were there. You squint at the way the peaks glisten in the first monring rays. You notice other things you don’t seem to have seen before. A flower bed laid fallow, full of promise, a neighbor’s welcoming porch, a fence rail of hand-hewn timbers begging the touch of a warm hand. Across the park, you see steam rising off the sun-soaked sod as sunlight dances through the wispy vapors. It’s enough to make you weep.
Yes, you say, the darkest days of the year are the perfect time for Hanukkah and Christmas, and celebrate it with light we will! Candles are lit, homes are strung with light, streets sparkle in it, the city boasts various light shows. Light and starry nights abound in carols and on cards. The persuasion is brought home by considering the person of Christmas, Jesus, who one time announced, “I am the Light of the World.” Not just a light in one dark corner of a barn, but the light of the world. A staggering, scandalous claim!
What makes Jesus’ words even more remarkable is that they echo God’s very first words in the Christian narrative, the Bible, “Let there be light.” And with those words the creation of the world dawned. Since then, the creation story continues as God redeems and re-creates what has been marred or obliterated by darkness. This story, darkness to light, is a cycle, repeated and realized in a thousand ways and places, always commencing with Light. So says the story of Christmas.
Cosmic as the proposition of Christmas is, the Light shines in the particulars of everyday life. For a few shepherds trying to mind their own business, the Light came as a whole freaking midnight choir! The sheep must have gone crazy as they sang back. For some scholars in the Mideast, it was a particular, unusual star most others probably missed. For Mary, the Light came in an uninvited guest.
You may recall moments when someone showed up while you were in a dark place, and that person let the Light in. Maybe only for a moment before fading, but you’ll swear something glowed there, flipped a page on your calendar, and tilted your world toward the Light.
Recently, on a dark drizzly day in the park, I noticed an elderly couple on a bench wrapped up together against the chill. They had two garbage bags, loaded perhaps with cans they’d collected. They’d paused to have a sandwich. My dog ran up to them wagging his tail, his eyes on their sandwiches. The couple laughed, delighted for the dog’s company, talking to him in Chinese, and offered him a bite. I apologized, but the couple smiled, shook their heads, and laughed some more. No apology necessary.
The simplicity of the moment—a couple who didn’t seem to have much but each other sharing sandwiches on a bench, offering some to a strange dog. This was Light in the middle of that rain-soaked day. My gait became slower, more patient. I felt more grateful . . . for what? Everything, I think. For December, overcast skies, my family, for a poor couple on that first Christmas who birthed into being the Light of the World, which changed everything.