Two strands of white Christmas lights are still hung inside my house. A strand above the fireplace. A strand above the dining room window. Last week, I took down our Christmas tree while Thomas boxed away the inflatable Santa Clauz who rides an armadillo. Seven boxes of Christmas paraphernalia were stashed away above our garage in anticipation of the next season.
Except these two strings of lights.
I simply won’t part with them.
The Winter Solstice, which is the shortest day of the year, occurs on or around December 21st each year. After this event, daylight slowly, slowly, slowly, begins to lengthen its effect over this side of the equator. In addition to more daylight, January in Colorado tends to be sunnier and warmer than other winter months, as though the mountains are giving us a brief glimpse of spring to come. But even with these two elements on my side, traditionally, depression rears its head against me during the month of January.
There are varied reasons, I believe, for the onset of the disease. I’m usually 5 to 6 pounds heavier from the over-indulgence of the holiday season. I’ve lost my rhythm of the gym because of the busy holiday schedule. I’m reviewing credit card statements, thinking, “What was that charge? I don’t remember spending so much on Amazon?” No special events fill the calendar. Family and friends have returned to their regular routines of life. And to top it off, the lights and decorations that adorned many homes and business around my area are mostly gone. The high of the holiday season typically swings into a low mental state combined with an uneasy feeling that something isn’t quite right.
Because, after the distractions of the busy season, I then remember the son who lost his mother at the holidays. I see the young children who didn’t have a gift-filled season; I note the mother who lost her baby. I reflect on the couple who now must figure out how next holiday season will be split between their newly separated houses. I hear of the dad who lost his job before Christmas and still hasn’t found a replacement. I listen to the explosive political environment and the rumors of war; I read about the refugees in my city who are experiencing homelessness and prejudice because of their skin color and ethnic background. I empathize with the friend who is also suffering from anxiety and depression. I recall the stories of the kids in the foster care system who are desperate for someone to care about them even if it is hard.
In January, it seems like the darkness wants to take over.
That’s what hits me hard. Right in the gut.
Without the darkness of our unique experiences in life, what place would the light even have? The light needs the darkness, and the darkness is lifeless without the light. In Genesis, the first book of the Bible, the Spirit of God moved upon the waters before the light even came. God was working in the darkness just as much as He would later work with the light. The light doesn’t negate the pain. It doesn’t gloss over the experience. It doesn’t make me pretend that all is well when it is not. What the light does is call me to truth. It says, “I see you – all of you. I love you. Come closer.”
Directly before Jesus spoke His well-known words, “I am the Light of the World. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life”, he rescued a woman caught in adultery from being stoned to death by an angry mob. Talk about a dark moment in her life. She walked away from the crowd, unscathed but going back to face the outrage of her family, the gossip of her neighbors, and the loneliness of a scarred life. In the wake of her retreating footsteps, Jesus called out these hope-soaked words.
These words are the inspiration for keeping up the Christmas lights. The lights are small flickers of hope against the darkness that can shroud everyday life. They are beacons to expose the darkness for its true nature and gentle reminders that all is not lost when all I see is hardship and pain and all I feel is hopelessness and loss. They remind me that, I too, am called by Jesus to be a light to the world more than once a year. “Your lives light up the world. Let others see your light from a distance…don’t hide your light! Let it shine brightly before others.” Matthew 5:14, 16 (TPT) I’m called to love, to rescue, to do as much good as possible. I’m called to combat poverty, racism, homelessness, abuse, climate change, and inequality as much as I am able. I am called to listen to the voiceless, stand up for the victim, and huddle close to the down-and-out.
Above all, I am called to frame the darkness with light. I’m called to cry from the rooftops, “All is not lost. You are not forgotten. You are not forsaken. All is forgiven. Love covers it all! Come close, you are welcome here!” (Okay, maybe I won’t stand on the top of my slanted roof and yell this to the neighbors because no one needs that kind of nut on their block. Still, you get my meaning.)
Beyond all the rush of the holiday season, the onslaught of depression during a cold winter, and the overwhelm of troubles in this world, there is hope. That hope is the Light of Life, the Prince of Peace, and Immanuel—God with us. God with us in triumph. God with us in trial. God with us in financial troubles, in prison, and in divorce. God with us in health and in sickness. God with us in loneliness and sorrow. God with us in joy and in laughter. God, the same One who moved on those dark waters so long ago in Genesis and boomed out, “Let there be Light!”, is with us even now.
No matter what comes our way.
When I was little, I remember listening to the radio on long car rides home from churches where my dad had been the guest speaker. The hum of the car’s motor would make me feel drowsy as darkness fell across Indiana farmland. I would long for my cozy, warm bed and soft pillow. Then, I would hear Motel Six’s commercial chime out to the backseat where I sat, squished between my two older brothers. “Motel Six: We’ll leave the light on for you.” In the oddest of ways, I would feel comforted. Somewhere, out there in the wide, scary world, a light was on. Usually, after this, I’d fall asleep.
Now, as mid-January already approaches, and 2020 marches on, at my house, we are combating the darkness with prayer and love and grace. We are also including a tangible reminder of our calling.
Two strands of white lights.
Shining out hope and comfort.
Yep, we are leaving the lights on.
All. Year. Long.