A Thrill of Hope, A Dazzling Light: Christmas Cheer in Dark Times

By Bethany Ferguson on December 22, 2016

This is the rock-rim edge of the known world.
This is the ragged planet where Christ landed,
and we are his people, craggy and knotted and burled,
and aching and lonely. Restless. Stranded.

These firs could well have framed his wooden manger
and his cross; I never encounter Advent without
Dark Friday. The days in the life of this stranger
were flecked with God-graces, threaded with human doubt.

Battered by storms of loss in her loving and grieving,
all her life Mary lived on the cliff-edge of cruel foresight.
Clinging, she rode the gusts and the glory, heaving
still with the donkey rhythm, dazzled with western light.

-Luci Shaw, “Bluff Edge, Whidbey Island”
Accompanied by Angels: Poems of the Incarnation

Isn’t there something striking about lights at Christmastime?

I’ve spent much of the last month traveling. And if you had been with me, you would have been slightly annoyed by my exuberant response to all of the decorations and light.

From the wonders of tinsel and trees in London’s Heathrow Airport (where they also had holiday specific carry-on luggage regulations banning wrapped packages and snow globes) to the towering tree in Rockefeller Center in Manhattan; from Rittenhouse Square in Philadelphia to The Battery in Charleston: the darkness of December is most notably offset by sparkling, shining Christmas lights.

Of course, this time of year isn’t all brightness and cheer. There is heartbreaking violence; there is a confusing political climate that seems to get more and more murky; and we each carry our own personal struggles and uncertainties. Sometimes, all the brightness of Christmas decorations can seem a garish contrast to the shadowed realities of life.

But to me, especially this year, the lights are a reminder that “this is the ragged planet where Christ landed.” Right in the midst of all of the mess, into our loneliness and restlessness, comes the brightness of angels and stars and hope fulfilled.

I would like to see promises fulfilled in dramatic, powerful ways. But I have to remember that the answer to the world’s hopes and fears started as a baby.

Humble, hidden, earthy, and mild; His initial arrival seems inauspicious and counterintuitive. In a world enthralled by power, wealth, and loudness, He chose humility, poverty, and smallness. Perhaps Christmas invites us to find Jesus again, not in the places of power and noise, but with those who seem to have the least influence and the most need.

I want to be like the Mary as described by Luci Shaw. I want to cling to hope in the midst of the gusts and glory on the cliff-edge of this confusing life of faith. I also want to experience a life “flecked with God-graces” even as I wrestle with doubt and uncertainty. I want to appreciate the gifts of smallness, of steps towards change, of Christmas lights and candles, of songs and poems, of hope hidden in our usual days. This Christmas, my prayer for you and for myself is that we will be freshly dazzled by all that is dawning because Jesus has come.

Bethany Ferguson

About Bethany Ferguson

Bethany Ferguson is an educator and counselor currently working in Kenya. She writes about how the gospel brings transformation in her work and in her own heart at bethanygrace.wordpress.com.