It is that time of year again, the calendar has turned and we find ourselves in December, of course we have known it was coming, our TV screens and high-streets have been full of adverts for food, drink and gifts, plastic junk and tinsel for months now. Saccharin, happily ever after Christmas films that have been being screened since the end of October ( I am totally avoiding those this year), and a certain kind of madness has taken its place among.
Now please don’t misunderstand I am not the Grinch, and I am really not against generosity and sharing, I love celebrations, and lights and candles figure among my favourite things. Tomorrow I am going out with my youngest two children to buy the yearly tacky Christmas decoration in memory of my mum who died 9 years ago.
All that said, what I am finding is a certain weariness within myself, I have said many times recently that we live in anxious times, with political turmoil being a global issue instability seems to have crept into our bones, and no amount of light and tinsel will make a difference to the feelings of uncertainty and disconnection that many are feeling. In this country the rich are getting richer and the poor are becoming poorer, it seems unthinkable 20 years ago that the UN would speak out against the UK for a breach of human rights due to a political policy of austerity, yet this is the reality we live with.
Yesterday I shared with a few friends that I was battling the black-dog of depression again, in truth I have been for a few months now, and while some point to my own busyness as the reason ( we do like to fix one another), I believe that the problem is much deeper, and what I am connecting with is a grieving within for something deeper and truer, something that cannot be fixed by anything but facing up to it, and finding the Spirit of God at work within. The fact that an impatient driver in Morrison’s car-park in Sheffield was able to reduce me to tears is no small thing, but it did wake me up, it woke me up to the fact that I am not immune to the prevailing sense of anxiety that I have been talking about.
In times of difficulty and challenge we are told that fight or flight responses are liable to kick in, I think that Christmas offers a perfect opportunity for flight, as we comfort ourselves with food and drink and stuff, but it will like all such comforts be short-lived. There needs to be something more, something deeper…
Here the story of the incarnation brings me deep hope, that God would choose to leave the glories of heaven and come frail and vulnerable to be born into a world in turmoil is still a deeply subversive message, we dress it up in tinsel be-decked bed sheet wearing “angels” and candlelight at our peril, making the story safe for children and surrounding it with pretty carols will not, if we truly dare to engage with it, diminish its power.
The story of light in the darkness brings angels bursting through the night sky with messages for the shocked shepherds that begin with the deeply settling words “do not fear”, words later to be echoed by Christ himself, as we are reminded again and again through Scripture that God has us and holds us, that there is a divine plan unfolding among us even in times of deepest darkness and confusion. The very fact that the Christ-child was born into a time of occupation and turmoil is no small thing.
So I am going to receive my internal anxiety as a gift, a gift that gives me the opportunity to seek the true light shining in the darkness, a gift that cannot be wrapped, but can be shared, when Jesus spoke peace to the disciples, he reminded them that he does not give as the world gives, that there is something deeper and truer for us to seek out, a deep truth that all are loved and accepted, and known should drive us to acts of love and justice, should fire us to live differently, to accept our vulnerabilities, and to offer them as gifts to ourselves and to others. I am challenged not to fill my store cupboards, but to give to those who are in need, yet not only to give, but to grasp the courage to stand and say this is not right. In seeking light in the darkness I have to accept that the darkness exists.
This year I have decided not to get caught up in the anxiety of purchasing lots of unnecessary stuff, stepping aside from the annual pressures, to spend time with others, to share meals and stories, and to connect with the truth that is is not what I have or give that is the truest expression of love, it is how I am, and if I take the model of the life of Jesus then I must encounter the one who drew the hopeless and anxious ones, and set them free. Perhaps then accepting that I have darkness within me and around me is the first step to becoming truly free.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness will not overcome it, this is truth, deep truth, and the light continues to draw and guide us, we simply need to wake up to the deeper truth, that we are loved, that we are valued, that we are fully known, still loved, still valued, precious and honoured in the sight of the one who dreamed us into being….