As I write there’s one day to go…. My annual discipline (such as it is) of holding back on festivities until December 1 st. This year this has felt especially hard, desperate as we have all been for something (anything!) to break up the monotony of lockdown and days that seamlessly carry us in a blur of days from week to month. And so the anticipation for this Advent journey is all the greater this year, despite the knowledge that the waiting Christmas will be a differently coloured version of the usual scenes. Of course, Advent ‘law’ dictates it be a quiet time of waiting and reflection, and I get that…. but I just can’t do it. I’ve waited and reflected and I’m ready for some Good News. Bring It On. Tinsel-time and Mariah-mas begins on December 1 st in my home and in my heart, and my anticipation of the Big Event is none the less for that. We’ve made it through the deepening cold and dark of Autumn, and now a light at last on the Winter horizon.
But for now, here I am on the last day of November. A heavy grey smudge-y sort of day that will all-too-soon retreat back into the darkening late afternoon and then another stretched-
out night. Restless and distracted on this somewhat dismal day, I find myself surrounded by chattering companions who – like me – are rolling up their travelling mats in anticipation of the advent journey. The ghosts of Christmas past, present and yet-to-come fill my head with whispers, promise and suggestions – they are wistful and hopeful, keen to move me from this damp, flat day and direct my thoughts to other times. Yes, my headful of noisy friends and I are ready to go, the light of the bright shining star ahead catching my eye over and over, pulling me forward. How about you? Are you ready to travel too…?
On the surface of things, there’s not much to jingle our bells about. For those of us in the Christmas tradition we probably won’t get to really see our family and friends – maybe just
a few, if we decide that measured risks are worth taking, and if we are able to travel, and if we can all align our ‘bubbles’ and don’t need to work on the permitted days etc. For those of us not in the Christmas tradition, it will evoke another set of emotions and responses no doubt. Not forgetting that so many in this country and globally are about to experience their first Christmastime following the loss of loved ones to covid-19, and that there are many, many others in extreme and desperate circumstances caused by the virus. There’s so much more to take into account this year than digging out the tinsel and lighting that advent candle. It’s all so complicated. And yet I find that all of this confusion, loss and pain is somehow held within my anticipation of the Advent journey this year. It makes the darkness darker – and the need for light all the greater.
This sense of the darkness all around draws me to the light that I feel ahead like a moth to a flickering flame. Do you know the children’s storybook, ‘Can’t you sleep, little bear?’ In the story, the young bear and his father live in a cave and the young bear can’t settle because he’s scared of the dark. He keeps disturbing his father’s evening asking for a bigger, and then bigger, and then even bigger lantern because there’s always more dark – but no matter how big the pool of light cast by the lantern there are always shadows in the gloom of the cave. In the end the father bear takes his son outside and points to the bright, white moon. The young bear falls asleep, safe in his father’s arms because the great light of the moon is so bright it casts out all darkness and there are no shadows left. I feel that as this year draws to a juddering close we’re needing a brighter lantern yet, as the darkness and pain, the loss and confusion at what’s happened to all of our lives has been so great. The shadows cast are long and scary, but the promise of a time of hope and light offers a chance to rest. Christmas won’t solve anything, it won’t bring back the lost and it won’t heal deep pain, but I’m going to let that bright shining star of Bethlehem guide me through the shadows for these weeks.
I think we can ‘Christmas’ in two ways this year. Surrounded, as we are, by the hard realities and weird facts of 2020 it’s not going to be easy and so we choose our path. We can choose to be blinded by the Christmas lights, looking neither left or right and determined to recreate – as much as is possible – a ‘normal’ Christmas for ourselves and those we love. This is what we yearn to do, a break from the wearies and woes of 2020. Alternatively and conversely, we can veer off – looking into the darkness and letting the shadows goosebump and prickle against our skin. Here is the pain and loss of the year, but this darkness makes the light of coming Christmas rise up ahead like the brightest of full moons that fill the sky. Yes, the shadows cast are long, and yes, they change the shape of everything – this Christmas will be different, we may feel sad as the ghosts of Christmas past and yet-to-be tap on our windows, we may feel lonely at times. But shadows shape-shift as light rises and, in time, all will be well, I hope. This is the light and big promise of Christmas, and this is what I’ll be bringing along on my Advent journey. That, my Christmas playlist on shuffle and more fairy-lights than you can shake a family-sized box of Quality Street at. In the meantime, it’s getting dark now…. 15 hours ‘til Christmas jumper time.