Last night, Thomas and I got all dressed up and went to a Christmas party my employer throws every year. We parked the car far down the sidewalk (lots of people come to this party) and I held his arm tightly because it was freezing and dark. He helped me dodge puddles in my little cloth shoes, and when I balked at walking across a pile of wet leaves, he lifted me over them and we came towards the warm light we could see through the big window—the Christmas tree was up and people were inside, milling around, dressed up, laughing. From cold darkness to warmly lit rooms, full of people looking great and glad to be there. It was a pretty clear juxtaposition—light and dark, cold and warmth, community and loneliness. So of course it got me thinking about winter and about Christmas, and about Advent, which is a time where I think about juxtapositions.
My college roommate used to live in Alaska, and she told me that it got…depressing. There are weeks and weeks of constant night, just darkness, sleeping and waking and going to school and coming home in darkness. Everybody waits for the day when they see the sun for just a minute. I once read an article describing schoolchildren in Alaska standing outside, singing “Mr. Sun, Mr. Golden Sun” at the top of their voices, ready to greet the dawn for the first time in weeks. It stuck with me.
When I lived in Massachusetts, the winter days were very short. I think the shortest day ends at like 3:30, when kids are still in school. I remember the feeling of “bleak midwinter”, and it’s a feeling of darkness and coldness, of layers of clothes that itch and fireplaces stacked with wood that sometimes lights in minutes and sometimes takes its time. Waiting for the fire makes the winter seem endless.
I remember coming home from school in my uniform and trying to light a fire in the big fireplace. There were rolls of newspaper, a basket of kindling, and stacks of thick logs that smelled like dirt. There was a science to it, and I always felt proud of myself in a way that I haven’t felt many times since—proud that I could fight the cold off, could keep the dark at bay with that long lighter and some balled-up Wall Street Journals (I also read them first. I was smart then, too.) I could so live in Salem in the 1690’s, I would tell myself; I could definitely do it.
At the moment, it’s cold in Texas—for perspective (and so the people in Massachusetts can have a good laugh), it was a high of about 40 today, and it’ll be a low of 31 tonight. Sure, cars and houses heat up (if you’re lucky), but there’s something about cold that seems to seek you out. It gets in through cracks in the door and pushes past insulation. Our bedroom is very drafty, and my nose is cold even while the rest of me is wrapped in flannel.
And of course, with the cold comes the dark. Sure, it’s not as big a deal as Massachusetts, but our apartment is small, and the living room has only one window. Last month I bought a cute little hand-held lamp, intending to keep it in the dim living room. It gives a bright blue light that makes you look old, but is pretty efficient in the small space. And it came in handy this week, when the lights went out in our hall bathroom.
I realized the light had gone out, because it went out while I was in there trying to hang up wet clothes. The dryer is broken and we’re at the mercy of Sears to get a new one delivered. There are no windows in that bathroom, and it gets very hot in there with the heat on. That’s why the clothes dry in there, and the towels get all crackly. So it was a pretty complete darkness until I got the blue lamp on. I could suddenly see myself in the mirror, holding wet shirts and towels on hangers, the blue light making me look…not my best. I actually looked like the Marleys from The Muppet Christmas Carol. But I was grateful for the light.
You can’t work in darkness. You can’t walk in darkness. You can’t figure out where you are or where everything else is. Once, in Luray Caverns when I was little, we were about a bazillion feet underground, and the tour guide turned off the lamps. We might as well have been swallowed. He told us that after a certain amount of time in that kind of extreme blackness, you would go blind. You wouldn’t even LOOK for light anymore, and if it showed up, you wouldn’t know it.
So today on the second Sunday of Advent, I’ve been thinking about that verse that says, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light.” And of course, the light was Christ.
One of my kids said the other day, in a dreamy voice, “I wish we could meet Mary.” I believe we will, and she can tell us what it was like to carry the light all that time. If she wants to…she may just want to hang out. I wonder if heaven will be like that Christmas party—Christians from all ages coming in out of the cold, shedding coats covered in the world, blinking in the light, and just…hanging out. Suddenly seeing everyone so differently.
Maybe that’s why on Christmas we all love to look at the lights. They may be tiny and some of them are kind of silly, but they keep the winter dark at bay. Whoever the dude (or teenage girl coming home from school) was that discovered fire must have realized how much the world would change from now on. Or maybe not—maybe he or she was freaked out. They probably got burned before they figured out how great and useful this was.
It’s Christmas—it’s a happy time. But the longer you think about Advent, the more dramatic you realize it is. Still, at the heart of it there’s the happiness, the knowledge that this is where the world changes—with the light that the teenage girl brought so long ago.
We are no longer at the mercy of the dark. We are no longer at the mercy of the dark. I just pray the light doesn’t burn me up—because of course it could, and sometimes it feels like it will.
(Stay tuned for more on the dryer situation as I try and “fix something”, which is an item on the List…unfortunately, fixing the dryer is now beyond our powers.)
(Also, if you’re still Christmas shopping and could use some rebates and stuff, here are my referral codes and links once again…remember, new users with these apps get bonuses when they start using them, and if they were difficult to use, I wouldn’t bother with them.)
Fetch Rewards: YK7AF