“It’s coming on Christmas / They’re cutting down trees / They’re putting up reindeer / And singing songs of joy and peace / I wish I had a river / I could skate away on” — Joni Mitchell – ‘River’
My wife and I just returned from a family outing in the winter-wonderland of Leavenworth, WA—a Bavarian-style village nestled in the “Alp-Like” Washington Cascade’s.
The sights, the sounds, and the scents of Christmas surrounded the throng of holiday visitors as they weaved in and out of the hundreds of shops. The festivities spilled out into the snow-covered streets, all lined with trees dressed brilliantly in thousands of lights that twinkled underneath the dust of snow. Carols of peace, love, and joy, followed us wherever we strolled.
As we drove back home ever so carefully over the mountain pass, cars and trucks lined up to chain up, and many others spun out and stuck in snow that should have. I thought how illusory that “Hallmark” Christmas ideal we just left is for so many of us.
For every one that looks forward to this season, there are many more who are suffering and broken— wracked with illness, loneliness, regrets, painful memories, estrangement, poverty, or homelessness.
For these, this season is a cruel reminder of what is not— making the darkness we are experiencing darker, the loneliness we feel even lonelier, the despair deeper, the grief more painful.
It seems that at this time of year there are two parallel Universes, the one taunts you for being in the other. While merry-makers are making merry, those for whom Christmas has grown dark only want to hide from the sights and sounds that sting so bad. They cry out in the words of Joni Mitchell “I wish I had a river I could skate away on”.
I have experienced this darkness at Christmas a number of times.
One was years ago in early December. I had just changed careers from a country debit insurance agent to the manager of a full scratch retail bakery. I loved the job, and it provided for my wife and three young children a level of financial security we had never experienced. We were ecstatic as we approached the Christmas season.
Two weeks before Christmas the store manager called me to his office and terminated me. I was falsely slandered by a fellow employee.
I will never forget the feeling I had coming home early in the afternoon, sitting down with my wife in front of our freshly cut and beautifully decorated Christmas tree, and telling her the news. After a brief cry, I got up and started looking for work.
I spent the rest of that Christmas and New-Years holiday working in a slaughterhouse butchering pigs and cows in order to stay in our apartment.
My wife and I sometimes reflect back on that time and remember it not so much because of its darkness, but as a time where the grace of God, the grace of Christmas, came through in spite of our circumstances. We experienced one of the most profound and joyful Christmas’ we can remember.
A week after New Year’s I was called back to my bakery job. The truth had become known, and the store manager was let go.
Christmas is the story of light bursting through darkness. It is the story of grace interrupting the too regular bumps and bruising of life.
It first happened 2000 years ago, in the dead of winter, in a bleak manger, in a country occupied by cruel despots, and has been doing so ever since.
No one needs to hear this message more than those who are sitting in darkness today—those who are going through the pain and suffering of financial stress, underemployment, illness or addiction, broken relationships, or the loss of a loved one.
If you are going through a dark time this Advent and Christmas, the love of the Christmas child is seeking you out specifically. This season is especially for you.
How that love reaches you is all of our business. As Ram Doss has said “We are all just walking each other home”.