The days are growing very short now, as we get closer to Christmas. The day that Christians celebrate the birth of our Savior is nearly the shortest day of the year for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere. We choose the darkest day to remember how the True Light came into the world to liberate us from slavery and death.
Yet, I do not personally experience December as a time of liberation and joy. As daylight hours diminish, I am burdened by the gloom of the darkened days and the cold winds that discourage me from venturing outside. And I know that this is only the beginning. I can expect months more of darkness and cold. If anything, the Christmas season is an introduction to the darkness, not the end of it.
The winter, with its lack of light, warmth and energy, is a time of purgation for me. During these days - starting around Christmastime - I am stripped down. All my ambitions are laid bare and I am forced to look at the naked truth of my life. Gone is the self-forgetfulness of summer. Winter is a time when I feel compelled to gaze unsentimentally at my life, and the wool I pull over my own eyes. Like the leafless trees, I am laid bare.
Perhaps this is the experience of Advent after all. The reality of Christ's coming, of his arrival into our everyday world, is startling. Jesus' light turns everything upside down. He reveals that many of the things we considered important are, at best, distractions; and he uncovers the hidden, neglected parts of our lives that are precious beyond all expectation.
Christ's coming can be painful. For me, his advent in my life has often been fearsome. The light of Christ can soothe and comfort when received by those who are gentle and humble of heart. But I am not always gentle, and I am often proud. When Christ's light dawns in my heart, I often experience it more as a consuming fire than as a gentle comforter.
As I receive Christ into my life this dark December, I feel a kinship with Mary, who carried our Savior in her womb. There is new life inside me, too; and my old body cannot contain it. Jesus is stretching me, changing me, kicking inside me as I am prepared to deliver him into the world. Like Mary, I am called to bear my Savior, and this delivery will require nothing less than total transformation on my part.
I could try to resist God in this process. I could refuse to cooperate with this new life growing within. I could decide to stay the same, to ignore the hard truth that Christ reveals. But there is a better way, this winter and always. With God's help, I will embrace the searing light of Christ. I will seek to be transformed into a worthy vessel for Christ's coming.