December is a month of waiting. If you’re young, you wait for Santa to come. If you’re a sun-seeker, you wait for the days to grow longer again. If you’re a Christ-follower, you wait for the coming (the advent) of the Christ child.
While you wait, you are anything but passive. You don’t sit, bored, drumming your fingers as the minute hand marches across your clock, willing the pages of your calendar to turn. You do something. Anything.
Children actively try to be good, to make the “nice” list and keep off the “naughty” one. They go out of their way to be helpful and resist the temptation to fight with their siblings. December is the best time to be a parent with little ones so eager to obey.
People who prefer sunny days (like me!) turn on lamps or light candles. You dream of vacations to exotic beaches, even if your transportation is only your mind. In December, the ever-present threat of winter storms hangs in the air. I know; we’ve just had a doozy. We waited, expectantly, for the first snowflake of the year. Now we wait, impatiently, for roads to be plowed, snow to melt, and power to be restored.
One of my favorite art terms is chiaroscuro, the contrast between light and dark. At no time in my life have I experienced that contrast more vividly than my first Christmas in Romania. The first one after the revolution. The first one in which Romanians could celebrate freely.
The world was dark in 1990. No lights on the streets. Very little light inside. Not much heat. No decorations. No gifts to buy or money to buy them with. It was nothing like any Christmas before in my life.
More than I ever expected, I loved living in Romania, but I also couldn’t wait for Christmas break. My team and I were to meet up with other American teams in Switzerland. We hoped to escape the hardships of life for a week, share the unbelievable things we’d witnessed, and be with friends who spoke our same language.
A blizzard fell on the city the day of our flight, grounding every plane. We waited—not hundreds of years as people did for Messiah, but two long days–in a cold, dark airport along with a mob of others desperate to leave.
Finally, Swiss Air swooped down and offered us a chance to enter a new realm. We had no means to pay for this gift. We exchanged all we had to offer (our meager Tarom tickets) for the last four luxurious seats. They ushered us to a mysterious world so beautiful, we could never have imagined it.
When I stepped out of the airport, headed for our housing that night in Zurich, the subdued, tasteful white lights outlining trees and buildings blinded me. The chiaroscuro made me dizzy. I’d been living in darkness for months. I wanted light; I’d waited for light; but I wasn’t prepared for it.
Christ-followers wait by preparing their hearts and their minds in December, reflecting on what the great mystery of the incarnation means. What does it mean to you—personally–that the God of creation stooped to take on human flesh? What kind of love did it take for this God to willingly humble himself to become a baby, utterly dependent on those he formed from dust?
Immanuel. God with us. God who came to invite us to join his life.
He arrived in a world darkened by fear, poverty, political unrest, hopelessness. A world not unlike our own, today. His light shone in the darkness. As Hanukkah also celebrates, that light will never be extinguished. It continues to shine, against all odds, even when the oil should run out. His light shines today.
The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
a light has dawned.
~ Isaiah 9:2