In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan…
While perhaps not one of the most historically accurate carols (it didn’t snow much in Bethlehem), this centuries old hymn evokes perfectly the imagery of my Advent and Christmas seasons. This has been a bleak year for me. Had you asked me at this time last year, I would have told you that 2014’s biggest challenges were adjusting to a new job and turning thirty. How simple those things seem now.
Losing my mother was a plot twist, breaking point, cliffhanger moment for me. Everything in my life is categorized as before or after. Mourning her has been ugly, and messy, and difficult. It has forced me to face all of my demons and then some. I have learned how (poorly) I deal with stress in my life and that compartmentalization is not always healthy.
More than anything, I have learned to be a woman without parents. I have learned to be an orphan. It’s no easy thing, being an orphan. You lose the ability to say where you’re going for the holidays or in what part of the world your family lives. Originally, I thought that losing my mother meant that I would stop being a daughter; that I would stop having a place to belong.
The lessons of Advent teach us about anticipation. We immerse ourselves in the darkness of the world without Christ and see how desperately the world needed a Savior. We look at the darkness in our own world and acknowledge the aching for His return. I understand darkness and I understand ache.
A wise man once said that you cannot fully appreciate the light until you have lived in darkness. My life growing up was not easy, and things have not changed much since adulthood. I have experienced hunger and cold and homelessness. I have experienced loss now more than even before. I am a person in darkness.
Then Christmas comes. God made flesh come to us in human form so that we may fully understand God’s love for us. Jesus, who becomes our brother and invites us into the family. Paul’s letter to the Galatians says that we are no longer slaves, but children; and not only children, but heirs. Do you know what that means for me? It means that I am an orphan who has been adopted. While my biological parents may be gone, I need not fret for I have been pulled into an eternal family. My mother knew most of my secrets and loved me anyway. My Father knows my secrets before I do and still decided I was welcome in His family.
This Christmas was easily the hardest Christmas I have ever faced and yet it has also been one of the best. I am thankful today for a God of paradoxes, who understands that heartbreak and healing can happen simultaneously. The people in darkness have seen a great light.