“Oh little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie..”
As I shiver over the dashboard and coax my icy car to life, the carols greet me on the radio. This can only mean one thing. Despite my sons’ conviction that it would “never get here,” December has indeed arrived. In a burst of lawn ornaments and lighted wreaths, we turned the page of our calendars and started mentally counting the days to Christmas.
“Above thy deep and dreamless sleep, the silent stars go by…”
My boys are humming the familiar tunes incessantly, thrilled by the dawn of the Advent season. On that first Sunday of Advent, we gathered around the coffee table, kneeling on the floor, turning out the lights, and fumbling with the matches. The tousled heads of my young sons bumped together, like ships run amok, as they leaned in over the tiny flame of the Hope candle. One little light. No bigger than a dime. But the glow danced in their eyes as it formed a halo of warmth and ferocity. And we sang…
“Yet in thy dark streets shineth, the Everlasting Light.”
I’m not sure who decided that the Advent season should kick off with “hope” but, man, they were on to something. Because the streets sure do feel dark this year. Our cars are plastered with bumper stickers, our social media with aggression, and our hearts with division. In our angry isolation, we weep alone for the jobs lost, the daughter deployed, the weight of depression, and the father who is never coming home. They say that the longest night of the year, when winter solstice hits its peak, happens right before Christmas. And as the daylight hours shorten, I feel the weight of it. Yes, my friends. The streets are dark indeed.
Perhaps there is an invitation in that old hymn; after all, the birth of the Savior was also the advent of the Man of Sorrows. Light and dark, joy and lament, hope and suffering; all such unlikely bedfellows. This year, I find myself craving a Christmas that creates space for both the dark streets and the Everlasting Light.
When we allow our eyes to sit for a minute in the darkness, the striking of the match is twice as captivating. So this Christmas, we hope, knowing that the tiny Flame birthed in that stable so many years ago will comfort us with warmth and ferocity. We hope, believing that other tousled heads will kneel beside us, pulling in close around that all-consuming Spark. And we hope because the Light has shined in the darkness, and the darkness will not overcome it.
“The hopes and fears of all the years are met in Thee tonight.”