An advent calendar sits in the pantry amidst candy, and birthday candles, and the things we reserve for special occasions. The occasion, advent, is here and yet it sits untouched, the first four doors remain stitched shut in their cardboard frame. I haven’t felt like celebrating advent, if I’m honest, this year I’ve been dreading Christmas.
I know, it’s terrible, especially coming from a pastor’s wife– but if I’m honest, as much as I look forward to December, Christmas time also stirs up anxious thoughts and sadness. I wish I felt the warm happy feelings sung about in the songs that spill from my car radio, that their merry notes would fill the parts of me that feel empty.
I have struggled with anxiety and depression for most of my life. But when you put it in those large, square terms it feels like an empty box, void of the painful reality that is contained within them. There are good days; days that I think I’ve finally fled the darkness, but then, there are the days that the darkness tries to cover me and to cloak all the bright and beautiful things in my life.
And while I battle my own sadness we also have a world that tries to manufacture happiness with the counterfeit versions of a Christmas reality that are impossible to live up to, “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” “Walking in a Winter Wonderland,” and “There’s No Place Like Home for the Holidays,” to name a few.
And then we’re forced to grapple with recent tragedies that seem even more tragic at Christmas time. In the midst of our “Winter Wonderland” people are shot down in the light of day by hate and evil, leaving behind the pieces of broken families and broken hearts.
And what about our own tragedies that many of us relive at Christmas time: the seats at the table that now sit empty or the Christmas tree that has no presents beneath it.
For many, Christmas can be a sad and lonely season. A season when darkness threatens to cloak the bright and beautiful things that Christmas has to offer.
But in those dark moments we need only to remember one dark and lonely night when a woman had no choice but to give birth to her son in an animal stall. In that dark and humble moment, she gave birth to a small and innocent baby. One light shone above Him to light the way for the lost. A humble baby boy took on the word’s darkness to dwell among us and to conquer darkness once and for all.
On the days that I am stumbling in darkness, I pray that God would light a match to guide my next steps.
Each step is an act of obedience. But as I remain in step the light grows brighter.
Today in obedience, I took out the calendar. I asked my daughter to find the number 1 and pried it open impatiently. Her face lit up under the warmth of my attention as her eyes fixed on the chocolate train tucked beneath the door. I nodded and she popped it in her mouth. Together we searched for number 2 and she laughed as I ripped open the stubborn door. She hungrily ate the small mold of chocolate and we continued until all four doors were opened. Her chocolatey smile illuminated my next steps, as I walked over and plugged in our small plastic Christmas tree, complete with an illuminated star.
As I examined the star that I carefully planted in place only days before, I questioned how I find joy amidst the anxiousness and sadness that I struggle with this time of year.. Then, I realize, that maybe in order to appreciate the miracle of Christmas, we don’t need to walk through a winter wonderland or cozy up to a fire with elaborate decorations and Bing Cosby. Maybe we first need to visit the dark and humble places, like a feeding trough, where God first dwelled among us. And in that place, we can find His light to guide our steps.
I look at her sweet face and examine every delicate contour as she gazes delightedly at the cardboard calendar beneath the twinkling lights of the tree. I whisper “thank you God; thank you for using me to perform a miracle.” As I look at my baby girl I’m filled with hope, and light, and maybe a bit of the Christmas cheer that the songs are talking about.
Because God sent his own son, to dwell among us, so that we can be called “children of God.”