It is coming. The longest dark. I was born into it, just a day before winter solstice. My ancestors lived for centuries near the arctic circle in Finland, where the long dark gathers up a great swath of the year and holds it in a cold embrace. I should be built for it; I should handle it better.
Instead I sleep, even longer than the dark lingers in the morning. And again when dark creeps toward the house in the late afternoon. I sit in front of a therapy light. Vitamin D capsules accompany breakfast. Boxes on a calendar grow a pattern of X connecting X, filling in toward the red circle marking the day I leave for south and sun.
Dark makes me vulnerable. For others, different triggers scrape away at defensive layers. The raw spots are prone to infection from doubt, weariness, a sense of losing the fight. The triggers may differ, but vulnerability is universal.
For parents whose kids struggle with mental illness, the defensive layers may be thin. A relapse, a post on social media about someone else’s child’s accomplishment, an unhappy anniversary of illness- all can reveal our hurt places. Unpacking the Christmas ornaments with their reminders of happier times, attending festivities while feeling numb, hearing about hope and joy and peace when these seem so far- these can wound as well.
I find wisdom in the old manner of celebrating Christmas. Advent, starting four Sundays before the big day, used to be a meditative approach to the celebration of Christ’s birth. Like Lent, it was meant to be a time of reflection, fasting, and prayer. I love that Advent can be seen as an acceptance of the long dark. Before the celebration of the Light.
At the time of the first Christmas, the Jews in Israel lived in vulnerability. They were at the mercy of the occupying Romans. Four hundred years had passed since the last prophecies. They understood the long dark. Zacharias, his wife Elizabeth, and their son John showed us how to celebrate Advent: with expectation, faith, and acknowledgement that the light was not yet.
Zacharias, a priest, foretold the role his son John the Baptist would play in preparing the way for Jesus, and then he sang out his great hope:
Because of the tender mercy of our God,
With which the Sunrise from on high
Shall visit us,
To shine upon those who sit in darkness
And the shadow of death,
To guide our feet in the way of peace.
Thank You God, that in Your tender mercy You don’t ignore the long dark. Thank You that You visited us when Christ came. Thank you that You are the Sunrise who remains with us. Thank You for Your peace soothing our hurt, guiding our way. Shine on us, Light of the World.