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candlight in the darknessI’ve been pondering the sadness of the season today. Perhaps “the sadness of the season” sounds as odd to your ears as it does mine.

As I’ve passed a particular street on my walks this month, I’ve been mindful of a family who lost one of their sons around this time last year. I don’t know the family, but I say a prayer for them as I walk by their street, and I imagine the dissonance they must be experiencing as they feel their pain in a season when retail holiday tracks sound, “it’s the most wonderful time of the year.”

A family I know is currently unemployed. I don’t know the details of their financial situation, but I’ve imagined myself and my family in their shoes. I think of how hard it would be to try to celebrate Christmas in the way that we’re used to, with a dwindling bank account and the uncertainty of not knowing when we’re going to see the next paycheck. Would I welcome the generosity of others toward me and my family or would I go into a kind of hiding, finding it too humbling and too difficult to be on the receiving end of giving.

On one hand I imagine the difficulty of telling our kids that we’re not going to be able to buy any gifts this Christmas. On the other hand, I find myself envying the simplicity of that kind of Christmas. I could send out an email saying, “You know our situation. We won’t be able to buy any presents this year, and we know you won’t hold it against us. Thanks for your love and understanding.” No shopping, no rushing around, no worrying about whether people will like my gifts or find them lacking.

I don’t have any personal wounds that are triggered by the holidays, but I’m sensitive to the pain of others. This morning as the fourth Advent candle, the candle of “peace,” was lit in my church, I couldn’t help but think of the violence that exists around the world. I couldn’t help but think of victims of injustice who are not experiencing peace right now.

During our worship gathering, one of our pastors asked us to consider how we have experienced the good news of Christmas recently. I had to think about that question for awhile before I came to an answer that resonated as true for me.

What I appreciate most about Christmas is the season of Advent. I’m grateful that our foremothers and forefathers chose to set aside a month-long season leading up to Christmas to focus on waiting, to sit with the longings of their hearts, and to ponder darkness and light.

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” John 1:5

The good news that I’ve experienced about Christmas is not that it’s “the most wonderful time of the year.” The good news of Christmas is that God came and continues to come into the deepest longing, sorrow, and darkness of our world. God is not far off, removed and immune to our pain. God is near. God is here, with us. God is with those who suffer, mourning with those who mourn, grieving with those who grieve.

I trust that God is comforting the mother, father, and sibling of that young man who died last year, whose street I pass on my walks. I trust that God is providing for my friends who are between jobs, and that God is giving their family a special joy this Christmas that has nothing to do with gifts or financial security. I trust that God is with the girl trapped in the sex trade, holding her close and counting her tears.

“You keep track of all my sorrows.
You have collected all my tears in your bottle.
You have recorded each one in your book.” Psalm 56:8

This trust compels me to accept God’s invitation to be a part of the work of Light. One of the greatest comforts to me at Christmastime is realizing that my family and I can be bearers of Light in our dark world. Through partnering and giving to organizations like International Justice Mission, Grace Ministries Thailand, and others, we get to push back the darkness by adding to the light. 

If you feel like crying this Christmas, please do. Allow yourself to grieve your own losses and to grieve with others who are grieving. Thank God for the empathy and sensitivity that exists in your heart. Then ask God how you might add to the light in some way for others. If you are going through a particularly dark season yourself, ask for the grace and the ability to receive from God more of God’s light and love for you.

“Look! The virgin will conceive a child!
She will give birth to a son,
and they will call him Immanuel,
which means ‘God is with us.’” Matthew 1:23

May you experience the Light, the Hope and the Peace of Christmas, even as you experience the pain of the darkness. And may you know that you are not alone. Immanuel, God, is with you.