This holiday season and the time leading up to it have been in some ways the darkest, yet also the most clarifying for me.
The depth of the mournfulness that I have felt throughout this year weighed heavily on my shoulders, and I was discontent to discard that mourning in favor of manufactured “Christmas cheer.”
Instead I chose to lean into it. I let myself feel what normally I would try to keep at bay. Questions about the goodness in mankind, the injustice of history, the unknowns of the future. Everywhere I look I see memes about how hard of a year 2016 has been. And it has.
The death, violence, racism, inequality, injustice, the personal and global tragedies– where does all of this fit into the story of a baby in a manger who supposedly came to banish those things and release to a NEW way– a better way?
I sought not to banish this question from my mind, but to sink into it. In my safe places with my safe people, I spoke this pain in my heart out loud, and because GRACE upon GRACE, not a single person tried to give me a pat, cookie cutter, nice and clean tow-the-religious-line answer. Instead they sat with me, and they held space for me and for my questions.
On most Christmases my eyes and those of many others are open to wonder, to miracles, to hope, to peace, to love and to joy. Its a beautiful thing– full of songs and laughter and lightness of heart. But that is is not the reality of Christmas for all. And this Christmas, in a keen way, my eyes were wide open that reality. This Christmas, my eyes were wide open to the darkness.
I cried out in pain for the women and children hidden away in dark corners in the middle of Seoul and in cities around the world, being used, raped and abused by man after man after man. This Christmas.
I cried out in pain for the genocide that we watch in Aleppo– our worlds’ collective declarations of “never again” happening now, again. This Christmas.
I cried out for those who are imprisoned in America, and in North Korea. Some justly, others unjustly, but nearly all forgotten. Those whose suffering are blocked from our view. Those who are persecuted for their race. For their religion. For their existence. Those that the world makes it so easy to forget. This Christmas.
I cried out in pain for those who must keep secrets– abuse victims, the mentally ill, the LGBTQ community, the suicidal, those deemed too weak for the societies in which they live– and put on a smile for ‘family,’ but who have no one in their lives who fully know, fully love and fully accept them. This Christmas.
I cried out for those who are without love. Who have lost their love. Who feel only the sting of loss and pain, both individual and collective. But who feel forced to put on a smile. This Christmas.
O holy night, the stars are brightly shining, and this is what, by that holy light, I see. Lots and lots of darkness.
I have not able to get this refrain out of my head.
“The light comes in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” John 1
I love this verse because it is DEFIANT and forceful in its declaration. The darkness, try as hard as it might, WILL NOT OVERCOME.
No matter how much darkness I see, my mind, spirit, soul, REFUSE to believe otherwise.
So, on Christmas Eve I clung to that defiance, and I walked into one of the darkest redlight districts I have ever set foot in– literally and figuratively. I smiled at the madams, giving them gifts of warmth and asking them to accept gifts on behalf of the women and girls that they were charged to keep hidden away. Some were suspicious, a couple were angry, most were surprised and happy to be remembered on this cold night. The few sex-trafficked girls who peeked from behind their black curtains, glimpsing our gifts ran to us with the excitement of little children. They were not allowed to come to us, but hopefully they were allowed to keep the gifts. I recalled “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belong the Kingdom of God.” And I realized that, though their ages spanned from young pre-teens to adult women, these were all little children who longed for a savior, and the Kingdom of God is theirs. To be there with them on that night, bringing the little light that we did, was to fly kindly yet still defiantly in the face of the darkness.
And as I reflected on this little sign, I began to ask, and look, and see, and hear– the ever present, ever burning and ever defiant light.
As I looked, I saw Christians in Aleppo gathered together in community on Christmas day.
I also saw this powerful historical photo of a Hanukkah menorah burning bright.
And as I listened for them, I heard the songs of generations of persecuted North Koreans trekking into hidden spaces to sing “Silent Night” and other carols. I heard the quaking voice of a man who saw a hand reaching through the bars of a prison in North Carolina, not from the outside in, but from the inside out– clutching a hand scrawled cardboard sign declaring “Merry Christmas” to all who are free. I heard declarations of love and vulnerability overcoming fear, and shame, and years of family and generational pain.
I saw and I heard light shining IN the darkness, and I saw and I heard light shining OUT OF the darkness.
So, God forgive me if this is irreverent, but this year I learned to see the message of Christmas as a giant middle finger to the darkness in this world. Because the Light has come, It is alive now, and It will continue to come. And nothing can be done to stop the Light.
With that, I am satisfied, I am heartened and I am emboldened: The work of Christmas is still being done, and we– the light bearers– however and wherever we are, will do everything in our power to war on against the darkness. Because the reality of this season– seen in both the darkness and the light– declares this to be who we are meant to be.
With love, solidarity and my heart,