We are well-versed in what this season should look like. We’ve seen the movies, read the books, watched the adverts.
We understand that the perfect Christmas involves a joyful, contented family with a handful of children running around sprinkling magic and awe over the proceedings. We know there should be tantalising smells drifting in from a kitchen that produces a sumptuous feast without effort or stress.
We want to participate in meaningful traditions, admire beautiful decorations, give and receive the perfect gifts. Christmas carols should play softly in the background as we sit beside a crackling fire, watching snowflakes cover the world in white. We are expected to be starry-eyed with wonder as we recall the story of the Saviour who came to earth as a baby.
Our days are meant to be to be merry and bright.
But what if they’re not?
What if Christmas underscores our feelings of loss? What if we’re grieving? What if we’re anxious or depressed? What if we don’t have adorable children to centre our celebrations around? What if we’re lonely, hurting or unwell? What if we’re disappointed, weary and broken-hearted? What if we’re angry and sad?
And what about the state of our world? Parents are separated from their babies. People cannot access healthcare or afford to buy food. War is ruining nations and lives. The vulnerable and marginalised are lost and forgotten. Children are living in abject poverty. Systemic injustice is woven deep into the fabric of our society.
Christmas can be a stark reminder that we are living in the already but not yet of God’s kingdom. We’ve read the end of the story and we know it has a happy ending. But we can’t see how it all works out yet. We don’t know how or when justice and healing will arrive. We live in the ache and the longing for all things to be made whole.
I listened to a podcast recently, about how the Celts would hang decorations on barren tree branches in winter because they knew spring was coming.
They strung up lights not to dispel the darkness, but to decorate it. Their purpose was to integrate both light and dark, acknowledging the need for both.
In the creation story of Genesis 1, God separates the dark from the light, but does not banish it. Instead, He sets a rhythm and a purpose for both light and dark. It makes me think about how the whole earth exists in darkness and light at the same time. In the northern hemisphere, we are moving towards our shortest, darkest days, while the southern hemisphere turns towards the long lightness of summer. This is light and dark, co-existing in one planet.
I think about how, though we see by the light, we must have darkness to sleep. While we reap in seasons of light, we must let the seeds we plant have their beginnings in the dark. If we want to experience the brilliance of resurrection, we must first know the shadow of death
So this Advent, I’m thinking about how to decorate the dark. I’m learning to lean into gratitude and notice all the ways God meets me with care and compassion. I’m collecting reminders of God’s love as though each one was another fairy light to be strung up in the dark.
The more I look, the more I find; God’s good gifts appearing everywhere, like a multitude of stars in the night sky.
Abby King is a teacher, writer, avid reader and tea-drinker. In the classroom, she loves helping shape little minds, and is passionate about introducing children to great books. When she’s not teaching, Abby spends her time shaping words on the page, writing towards hope in the midst of hard things. Although she finds nature beautiful and inspiring, Abby is most definitely a city girl and makes her home in Birmingham, England. Creative and curious, Abby is a life-long learner who holds degrees in English and Theology, alongside gaining her teaching qualification from the University of Cambridge. In her spare moments, Abby plays flute, piano and cello and spends time with her nephews and nieces, whom she adores.