Churches all over the world are celebrating Advent, the four weeks leading up to Christmas. This is the time of year when the days are getting shorter and darker, when we see less and less of the sun (as if we ever see much of it here!), when hunting and harvest season are over, and winter is descending. In nearly every culture, this is a season in which we mark the darkness and anticipate the light to come. For the ancient Celts, this was the season of Yule, of midwinter, when people celebrated the rebirth of the sun after the long darkness.
I’ve always loved this metaphor of waiting in the darkness.
The holiday season is supposed to be a joyful one, a time to celebrate with family, exchange gifts and listen to carols. Sometimes, I think our culture gets a little carried away with all the busyness and gift buying. Yet, for many of us, this is a difficult season. It is a time when we remember lost loved ones; a time we mourn what might have been; a time of loneliness for those of us separated from friends or family. Some of us are singing along with that old song; “I’ll have a blue Christmas without you.” For many of us, this is a time of waiting in the darkness.
I’ve just moved back to the harbor after years away and am grateful to spend this season with family and back in this place I love so much. Last week, I was excited to go to Montesano’s lovely Festival of Lights with my sister and her kids. That great big logging truck covered in lights caught my eye. It reminded me that we were once a thriving timber economy and that for many years now our communities have struggled. I hear so many stories of people who have lost homes or lost jobs or can’t afford heat. It struck me, as I looked at all the lights, that we are a community waiting in the darkness, waiting for the light to come. Waiting for the days to grow longer. Waiting for the sun to rise again.
And that is the message of this season. That a little baby, born in a barn in a tiny town in the middle of nowhere, was sent to save the world. That in the middle of the darkness, and to an oppressed and downtrodden people, light came into the world. That, out of the most terrible loneliness and loss, out of crisis, out of struggle, light and life and joy break in to our lives and our communities.
I hope for that light to dawn on each of us and on our communities this season. I pray, as we wait for the days to grow longer and the sun to return, we find light and life and joy in the darkness this season.
The Rev. Sarah Monroe serves as deacon at St Andrew’s Episcopal Church, Aberdeen and ministers alongside people living on the street with Chaplains on the Harbor.