We turned off all of the lights in the house and stood around our wondrous man-made evergreen tree. My boys’ eyes sparkled in joy as they anticipated the coming Christmas season. I, on the other hand, settled in to revel in one of my very favorite feelings of Christmas: the warmth of clear, white lights against the obscure green of the tree – a green that appears almost black in the shadows of the night.
As a child, I begged my mom to deck our house with icicle lights. After many years of a single row of enormous multi-colored bulbs along the gutters of our house, those new-fangled white icicle lights created a sort of ethereal beauty for me. Certainly, as a child, I did not understand the significance of a bright light shining so gloriously against the dark night, but the beauty of it struck me deeply.
Now, as we enter the last few days before celebrating Christmas with family and friends, I gaze at the tree in the corner of our living room and feel that deep, unfathomable beauty again. There are many aspects of Christmas that bring me joy – my boys and their giggles on Christmas morning, my husband handing me a steaming cup of coffee as we snuggle on the sofa, gathering with my extended family to open gifts and watch the movie Elf – but this one commonplace image of light against dark has burrowed into my soul.
It is not just the white lights on a dark tree, or glittering icicles lining a rooftop that moves me this way. Every time I get a spare moment to throw a blanket over my shoulders and step out on our deck to enjoy the peace of a country night, I find myself straining my neck to look directly up into the starry night. As I peer heavenward, the world fades away and I become one of those trillion stars lighting the sky. And in those moments, I remember that, though I often feel insignificant and inconsequential in the largeness of the universe, the little light I shine will glow brilliantly against the darkness around me – if I let it.
It is so very easy to blur myself into the darkness of the world – into the negativity, the pain, and the skepticism. Words, images, and emotions swirl around me daily. After all, I am surrounded by young teens who hover in the chasm between childhood and adulthood. One-hundred and fifty 13-year-olds produce a lot of drama in a 6-hour school day. Add to that mix the infinite expectations put on a teacher’s time and the constant tug from every side that thinks its way is the best way to educate, inform, and socialize these young people. Often, I can feel my classroom darken in mood as my students’ emotional states filter into the atmosphere. In many of their lives, there is real suffering and loss – experiences I have not yet encountered – even struggle to understand. It hurts my heart and clouds my perspective if I let it.
Then, a precious one of them approaches me, hesitant yet eager to connect. She smiles and whispers, “How has your day been?” I force myself to look up from my computer where I frantically arrange last minute details of the lesson. I want to growl and bark my words at her – it’s the end of the day and I. am. tired.
But I don’t. I throw my arm over her shoulders, swallow my growl, and give her a small hug. I smile back and tell her how happy I am to see her.
“Really?” she asks, genuinely surprised to hear my words.
And my soul sinks. How can this precious one think that I am not happy to see her? How can she not perceive the love and care I have for each one of the souls entrusted to me? It is because I let the dark win. I let the shadows pulling at me overtake the light within me.
So I hug her again, and I explain how hugs and smiles and questions about my day create joy. I thank her for being thoughtful enough to approach me. In so doing, in choosing in that one moment to a be a light for this sweet student of mine, I lightened her load, too. This one who has known so much pain – my little bitty light of encouragement and love eased the darkness of her burden.
Now, I think about all of those Christmas Eve services I have attended over the years, the ones where each person holds a candle and passes the light from one to the next. As we share our light, the pitch-black room begins to glow with the warmth of the white Christmas lights against a dark night. Each tiny flame contributes to a much brighter fire that burns all around me. When we hold them high above our heads, for all to see, the room is brilliantly warm and light, but when we tuck them low, hidden amidst the shadows of our forms, the room is overcome with darkness.
So this is the depth of meaning for me in those simple white lights on a man-made Christmas tree in the corner of our living room. I am to be a light – whatever itty bitty light God has created me to be, so that I can shine on all the shadows around me, in hopes that others do the same, so that those who walk in darkness will eventually find the light, too.