Katie and I went for a walk this morning. We left Euclid behind, much to his chagrin, and wandered a new path, one Jonathan discovered this past weekend. At his recommendation, instead of turning to the left or the right at the end of our road, as I have done every time I’ve left home since we moved here in the spring of 2011, I forged straight ahead.
The road took us back away from the highway, into the quiet still of the trees. I talked to Katie as we went, pointing out interesting features or landmarks, drawing her attention to the ducks or the geese or the squirrels that crossed her field of view. She responded with excitement, gesturing and exclaiming, right up until the point she fell asleep.
(An aside: is there anything sweeter, anything more peaceful, than a sleeping child?)
Our path skirted around a small pond. Just beneath the surface waved fronds and leaves, aquatic plants stretching tendrils toward the light. With the air damp from recent rains and the sky a gloomy gray, it reminded me of that scene from the Lord of the Rings – the one where Frodo and Sam and Gollum weave their way through the dead marshes, trying not to look at those who lie beneath the water.
My walk was much more pleasant than theirs, of course, much less fraught with danger. Signs of life were all around. Trees lined the banks. Geese called overhead. Dogs barked in the distance. Even the slow dance beneath the water was one of life, not death.
Yet the thought stuck with me, the thought of death. I made my way home, past trees devoid of leaves, apples rotting heavy on their branches, past hillsides and meadows brown and barren. I thought of death, of darkness, of the waning light and the pressing chill.
A celebration approaches. A birthday celebration. As any young child raised in the church can tell you, Christmas Day heralds the birth of Christ, His entrance into this world as an illegitimate, helpless baby, laid to rest in a manger.
We mark December 25th each year, set it aside for remembrance and wonder, though there’s debate as to whether the date itself is accurate. There’s no way of knowing* for sure, though people try – using things we now know about the movement of heavenly bodies to try to pinpoint the star of Bethlehem, positing theories about shepherds and fields and cold winters. Potential dates abound. Perhaps summer. Perhaps fall. Perhaps spring.
In the end, though, December 25th is the day we celebrate. Whether He was born on that specific date or not matters little, or so it seems to me, for there are greater things afoot here than the accuracy of a box on a calendar.
For this is truth: as the days shorten and the darkness comes and it seems as though we are headed toward endless night, it is then when He comes, then when He meets us, then when His hope shines the brightest.
How appropriate, then, that we celebrate the coming of the Light just days after we experience the greatest darkness.**
In this season of Advent, as the chill presses in and the light wanes, as we experience death and darkness, as the world around us seems to crumble, may we cling to this hope: the Light comes. He comes. He comes. Amen.
The people who walk in darkness
Will see a great light;
Those who live in a dark land,
The light will shine on them.
*For an interesting exploration of how December 25th became Christmas, check out this article.
**I recognize, of course, that in the Southern Hemisphere, December 25th comes just days after the summer solstice. My apologies to any readers who live below the equator.