One of the best Christmas memories ever is to come out of the cold into the warmth of home. I remember I had boots with hooks and laces when I was about four or five. They were beautiful and certainly NOT what was in fashion back then. I loved to put them on when it was cold and snowy outside. I remember getting off my mittens in front of our hallway tiled fireplace, fingers still stiff, grappling with the half-frozen laces to get off my boots again. The tingling of cold toes warming. The bright light from the kitchen illuminating the hallway.
Later, when I was living all by myself, I used to light candles in my living room, turn up the radiator, stand by the window, and gaze into the dark, wondering whether other people behind their lighted windows were able to enjoy a moment of quiet Advent joy to themselves as well. Lights in the dark.
Taking a walk through the neighborhood after dark during Christmas season is what I always loved to do back in the day. There were candle arches in windows, light chains in the trees, sometimes an early Christmas tree to be glimpsed through airy curtains. Even the tiniest tavern was decked to the ceiling with fir garlands, Advent arrangements on the tables, glittery ornaments, and whatnot. Coming inside, wherever, was like entering from the cold dark into a festive light.
I guess this is also what fascinates me so about the Christmas story in the Gospel of Luke. Basically, it’s a mind-movie he has managed to write. The shepherds guarding their sheep in the dark, protecting them from wild animals and other nomads trying to rob them. It must have been a rough lot living under rough circumstances. Of course, our imagination plays into the few sentences – as this story is told in December, in our hemisphere, we imagine cold nights, maybe even with frost or snow. And then, all of a sudden, there is this comet. This unusual sight that stays in the sky. Not a sky that is filled with planes blinking overhead and satellites crossing over in quick sequence. It must have been aweing and daunting. Something nobody had ever seen before. Human curiosity would have made them check it out. And across a stable they came.
From the cold into the warmth. From the darkness of the wilderness lit only by the stars (and maybe the moon) to a sign of human settlement, which meant comfort, safety, warming the limbs. Everybody can relate to this even if they are not believing in the Gospel. Just let your mind drop into the scene and feel the temporary relief.
Here, in a region that is characterized by mountains and coastlines, such beacons in the dark might be a ranger station in the middle of nowhere or a lighthouse. The sign that somebody cares about those who are still out there on their way to one kind of a destination or another. Light through a log house window or from a towering building near treacherous shores.
On Holy Night, I have always cherished two kinds of beacons in the dark of the early evening – the lights of a church and those of home. Christmas has long stopped to be about gifts or what’s on the table for me. Easy to say, I know, when one lives under blessedly secure circumstances. As I am writing this, I still have no plans for what will be on the table. I haven’t even finished my Christmas gift shopping, which is a rare one for me. But I know that there will be a loving companion to be with, music to hum to, warmth, candle light, coziness.
May your holiday season be blessed. And may you be surrounded by light that spends you coziness and comfort during one of the darkest times of the year. Merry Christmas!