In two hours’ time, our party of 11½ will be complete and Christmas will truly begin (not that we haven’t already been enjoying carols, gingerbread and coming dangerously close to a real-life Nativity play increasing our number to 12).
I also sat down to blog on Christmas Eve 2011 about my favourite thing about Christmas: the fact that it is a celebration of the light that darkness cannot overcome.
Looking for light and framing things in hope became strong threads in the tapestry of of 2012. Yes, they have become art forms to be mastered, skills to be learned as darkness and ugliness and confusion and despair make themselves known again and again. I don’t think I knew just how real the darkness would be when I wrote about it last year. It’s funny to look back over what I have written since and to look at the dynamics, the times when darkness really was very real. But it has been my experience that the more you know darkness, the more you come to know light and I don’t think I’d like to go back to when life was more muted or grey: it’s worth facing darkness for each glimpse of light that you get to catch.
But this year, I’m uncomfortable with the contrast we sometimes create from our experiences of darkness and light. I don’t think it’s true to the light. Of course, darkness is void of light. But the darkness is so dark. And lonely, at times. And without end, it sometimes seems. And waiting for light to appear at the end of the tunnel, or choosing to focus on other things to distract or appease ourselves isn’t quite enough. By doing so I think we are in danger of ignoring the darkness and our reality therewith.
I do believe in light, and in change. I love seeing the light take over space the darkness once encamped. But what happens if things don’t get better? What if someone comes into your child’s school and tears them from life with you? What if Northern Ireland has to carry the burden of division for longer than what we’d hoped? What if she doesn’t get better? What if children are still abused in 2013? What if the porn industry isn’t stopped? What if he doesn’t come home? What if there are more trafficking victims this year than last? What if this Christmas, there are women who are beaten in their homes? I’m sure your own “what if’s” reel along with mine.
It’s exhausting to face these questions, and even more exhausting to paint over them with a smile in desperate anticipation for their ‘happily ever afters’. We wait for the end, for relief, for light, however it may come. Waiting can make the darkness appear thicker, more bleak still. We live in between the now and the not yet. We wait. Most often in darkness.
The darkness cannot understand the light: but maybe the light understands darkness.
Maybe we don’t have to hold our breath until the light appears and everything is OK again.
Maybe our experience of darkness matters.
Maybe the mystery of the incarnation is that Emmanuel is with us in darkness and in light.
Maybe the King comes in vulnerability that matches ours, and sits in it, with us.
Maybe Advent is celebrating the coming of the one who is with us in waiting.
So I think my new favourite thing is about Christmas is the reminder that the one who has come to be with us in waiting, the one who brings light isn’t afraid of or naive to darkness.
The light has come, and the light is coming, but the Light waits with us in darkness, too.