The Gift that Darkness Has to Offer (or, When My Childhood Christmas Isn’t Enough)


December seems a little more gray this year, doesn’t it? I don’t know, maybe it’s just me. Seems the sun doesn’t come out often, and these long nights have me prying myself out of bed in the morning.

Decembers were brighter when I was a kid, of that I’m sure. I remember riding the bus to school through a glaring kind of light, the giddy premonition of gifts only a few weeks away. The smooth plastic of the bus seats. The air was freezing cold, liquid hope, and the ground might have been hard and brittle but I barely noticed because Christmas!

These days though, as a newly-minted 38-year-old, I’m more aware of the darkness.

You see it in the furrows of a friend’s forehead when he says, “Yeah, I wouldn’t mind if we could just sort of skip over this Christmas, you know? I know I shouldn’t say that, but…” and his voice trails off.

You see it in the almost guilty look after you ask a friend how she’s doing and she says, “We’re doing okay, I guess.” Guilty because we’re not supposed to say how we’re really doing right? It’s Christmas! Joy to the world!

When will give ourselves permission to mourn, to feel, to talk about the cold and the darkness?

It all reminds me of the lyrics from the song “Another Christmas” by Over the Rhine:

‘Cause I’ve committed every sin
And each one leaves a different scar
It’s just the world I’m livin’ in
And I could use a guiding star

I hope that I can still believe
The Christ child holds a gift for me
Am I able to receive
Peace on earth this Christmas?

* * * * *

A friend recently went into the hospital with an unexplained, seemingly life-threatening illness. Families that I know prepare for their first Christmas without a loved one. People are senselessly slaughtered.

Jesus arrived in a manger, the embodiment of everything that so many had been waiting for. But sometimes I look at what we’re left with, here in the aftermath of that birth, that life. Sometimes you have to wonder if the good guys actually did win.

When I was little, the Christmas of Santa Claus was enough for me: the flashing lights, the shopping mall, the waiting with anticipation for Christmas morning gifts. Two weeks off of school and snow if we were really lucky. That was Christmas, and that was enough.

But now? I need Christmas to be more. I feel the acute pang of waiting for a savior. I have that hope of which the angels sing, but I also have the knowledge that the world remains a dark and difficult place, and this tension between hope and waiting, bright and dark, lights and shadow, leaves me feeling less Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle All the Way and more O Come, O Come Emanuel.

* * * * *

Have you been trying too hard
Have you been holding too tight
Have you been worrying too much lately
All night
Whatever we’ve lost
I think we’re gonna let it go
Let it fall
Like snow

‘Cause rain and leaves
And snow and tears and stars
And that’s not all my friend
They all fall with confidence and grace
So let it fall, let it fall

– “Let it Fall” by Over the Rhine

* * * * *

I walk home through a bustling city, my breath exploding in cloudy bursts. I turn the corner, walk up the stairs to our house, unlock the door, walk in. We have a warm house, and that blessing does not escape my attention these days. The kids come running. I find Leo, nearly six months old, and he looks at me through eyes that don’t know worry or despair. Everything for him is now, here, this present moment. I lay down on the floor and put him on my chest and he pulls at my beard, his little fingers grabbing and pinching. He drools non-stop these days, teeth on the way.

This is hope, I suppose: playing with children, walking through the city, being willing to love. Hope exists only in the tension, and it might be the only gift that darkness has to offer.

3 Replies to “The Gift that Darkness Has to Offer (or, When My Childhood Christmas Isn’t Enough)”

  1. Shawn, I could really relate to your post! It got me thinking about Christmas this year. I am hanging onto hope and believe that God will answer us when we listen. Thank you for the heartfelt post!

  2. I also have that acute pain and it takes away nearly all my enjoyment of Christmas, unfortunately. You put into words for me what I didn’t quite know; that the reason I no longer feel a shred of “Christmas spirit” is because the getting and yes, even the giving of gifts no longer comes close to fitting my idea of what Christmas means. Sometimes I feel like a voice in the wildernes, and that I am preceived as a killjoy, but the way most of us (even professing Christians) continue to celebrate is pretty hollow and meaningless to me. Thanks for this post.

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