But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 1 Peter 2:9 (My scripture memory this week.)
The image of light shining out of darkness is my favorite of all that’s Christmas. Ann Voskamp writes about it brilliantly in her book of Advent readings, December 14.
Wait through the long, black night. Wait through the black that gets in your marrow. Wait through the dying, the cries you can’t hear, the lurching gasp of the last death heaves…
And then… there it comes to the waiting, to the leaning, to the cold – a dawn! Light! Light! Not mere candles wavering in the face of the black but a dawn – a dawn to crack back the black, to pry up the dark with bright shards, to peel it back and flood the cold room with light.
She is BRILLIANT. Each of her Advent essays, a masterpiece, and I tell you this woman’s words fill me with such longing to write, yet terrify me, too. How could I ever?
But this is my story, and not Ann’s. Mine to live and tell. This story of light and darkness.
Lately, for some reason, I’ve been thinking about my past, and the past of my family. Thinking about the miracle of God’s redemption and how He interrupts our darkness. Annihilates dark, flooding the night with so much light.
Honestly. This life I’ve lived has been So Much Light. A miracle of light, considering. Considering a family lineage somewhat raw with tragic stories. Hard, sad stories of things my own parents endured just a handful of years before I was born. Nothing chosen. Not one thing anyone could have done. Which is more often than not how the awful darkness attempts to break us.
And yet. My own life has been bathed in light. Let me show you. This text, last week, from my mom:
Tell Grant and Kiana we got their Christmas picture in the mail this morning and it is perfect! I clearly remember the first picture I sent out at Christmas after having our first child and I remember how excited I was when we had a baby to celebrate Christmas with. I can look at the look on their faces and totally feel what they’re feeling in that picture.
That baby was ME. First-born, and born after a bit of waiting. A bit of suffering. A bit of light in a shadowed story, and all these years – All I’ve known is light.
I’ve had the easiest life. I remember well. Leaving for college, eighteen years old, and I’m not sure if I said it to someone or maybe to God. My life has always been easy. Acknowledging this, and knowing it mattered. Not a free spirit, but carefree at heart. Over thirty years later, and still I can say this. A life full of light.
But another Christmas card arrives in the mail and it tells another family story. My baby brother, and my brother’s baby, and here we are. Same womb, same home. But such different journeys. Choices made, addictions formed, no doubt an attempt to overcome some kind of soul-deep darkness. And don’t you wonder sometimes why it happens this way? Some stories are hard, and some are so easy.
I saw him last, last Christmas at Gina’s. I remember it now. How Joel was there, black-eyed from a near-miss, a car and a bike. His newborn daughter the center of attention. And I remember, too, the gift I’d chosen. A favorite book, one for my dad, and one to exchange. Never even thinking about the wild significance, which now seems absurd. How could I have missed this obvious connection? Kyle’s favorite author, one of mine, too, and we loved this book especially. Long Way Gone, a prodigal story, and there I was putting it right into the hands of my brother’s father, and it does make me wonder. How can a dad turn his back when he knows this story – and who can blame him for never being able to give up on his boy?
And then, right here, under my own roof, there’s this other story. Mine and ours. Two boys of my heart, but not of my womb, and they, too, have known their share of darkness. Hard stories, none of it chosen, things just happen. And this happened, too, unexpected. Their story merging with ours. An earthly Dad and a heavenly Father. A Welcoming Home. And to the waiting, a dawn! Merciful God, He knows each of our stories.
The Light never comes how you expect it. It comes as the unlikely and unexpected – straight into Bethlehem unlikely and the feed trough hopeless, and Christmas whispers there is always hope. It doesn’t matter how dark the dark is; a light can still dawn. It doesn’t matter if the world whispers… tells us that nothing will ever improve, get better, change. God favors the darkest places so you can see His light the brightest.*
So we light the Advent candles. String the lights of Christmas. Defy the dark of winter, and remember the promise, already delivered. SO. MUCH. LIGHT.
Long Way Gone by Charles Martin (You should really read this one.)
*The Greatest Gift by Ann Voskamp