Today’s advent reflection is by Daniel Hochhalter who currently lives with his wife and three wiener dogs in Portland, Oregon, where his only true credential is that the Lord loves him. Hochhalter has a BS from Liberty University and an MDiv from George Fox Evangelical Seminary.
I love Christmas lights because they signify Advent—the coming of Christ. Advent occurs in December, which in the northern hemisphere contains the shortest, darkest days of the year. It used to be a time of darkness inside me too, but gradually it has become as a time of life and hope.
My first and fondest memories are of Christmas. My mom always picked the fullest, most fragrant tree. My dad hung the lights; inside they made the whole house bright and cozy, while outside they sparkled in the snow. My two sisters and I would decorate with handmade ornaments, and every night we’d each untie a Hershey’s kiss from our Advent banners and head for bed with the sweet taste of chocolate in our mouths.
Every Christmas Eve, our house overflowed with good friends, talking, eating, laughing, and playing games. My job was to keep the fire going and the records spinning on our massive RCA stereo. And every year, Santa showed up with presents. Beneath the white beard, he sounded suspiciously like my jovial Sunday school teacher, coincidentally named Nick, and he definitely had Nick’s laugh. I wanted to call him out, but I wasn’t absolutely sure and I didn’t want to push my luck.
Those were bright days, full of joy and laughter.
Then my parents split up, and I went to live with my dad. Tension and sadness from the divorce hung over us like a heavy January fog. After that, Christmas was nothing special; we’d open presents and then just watch TV.
Instead of a time of joyful anticipation, December became the time when I most grieved the loss of my intact family. For years afterward I tried to recreate those precious Christmas memories, but nothing I tried could dispel that inner grief.
As I grew into adulthood, I faced additional challenges. I’ll skip the details (covered in my book, Losers Like Us), but the capstone came in 2008, when I lost my PhD and my job and became paralyzed with shame.
The next few years became a kind of Advent for me—a time of desperate waiting and longing for God. The dark days seemed to be, as C.S. Lewis put it, “always winter, but never Christmas.”* But while God seemed far off, he never abandoned me. Bit by bit, he stepped into my darkness—a little here, a little there—sharing his love and grace in barely perceptible ways.
All of the moves were his.
And the more he revealed himself, the more I began to understand that true joy never resided in those happy childhood Christmas celebrations; instead, it resides in the gift that is Christmas itself—the gift of Christ’s coming.
As I began to understand this, over time a strange thing happened: Advent, my time of grieving, slowly grew into a time of light. Because Jesus himself is the light. (Click to tweet!)
Like me after the divorce—and like the Jews after 400 years of waiting for a Messiah who hadn’t come yet—maybe you have a broken, empty heart this Christmas. Maybe you are reeling from a devastating death, divorce, or diagnosis, or grieving other shocking news in the world or in your own life. Maybe you are facing sadness, loneliness, or rejection over past holiday memories. These are very real struggles during the dark days of December.
But dark days are the perfect context for Advent—because December, the month with the shortest, darkest days of all, is also the month in which the light starts increasing again, anticipating the return of spring. And just as winter anticipates spring, so Advent anticipates the Messiah. He alone can dispel the darkness.
So during this season of Advent as Christmas lights twinkle over cities and towns, remember that this is our time to celebrate the most remarkable, spectacular, mind-bending truth of all time:
“In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:4-5, NIV).
He steps into the darkness of our story. Emmanuel, God with us, came to be our light. (Click to tweet!)
In our darkness, God’s light appeared in Bethlehem.
In our darkness, God’s army of angels erupted in praise.
In our darkness, God’s love journey started in a stable and ended on a cross.
He came, he lives, and he will return. No matter what happens, no one can ever take that away. Every Christmas light that pierces the darkness reminds me of that promise—and I pray it will remind you too.
*Quoted by Mr. Tumnus and other characters in Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.
Today’s advent reflection is by Daniel Hochhalter who currently lives with his wife and three wiener dogs in Portland, Oregon, where his only true credential is that the Lord loves him. Hochhalter has a BS from Liberty University and an MDiv from George Fox Evangelical Seminary. I love Christmas lights because they signify Advent—the coming of Christ. Advent […]