The Darkness before the Dawn
I read the sad story of a young man in Texas who took his life this week because he could no longer tolerate this up-ended life of being home and away from his friends. He was a football player and in high school and his entire life lay before him with all its wondrous potential but all he could see was the despair of this moment not the joy or the light of the future beyond. My heart breaks for him and for his family and friends. But I also understand the despair which can make the present darkness feel impossible to bear.
This week my mother and I made the difficult decision that I would not fly to visit her for Christmas. I haven’t seen Mom since March. I bought my tickets for this two-week visit back in September. And with every day that brought my visit closer we talked more excitedly about how we would spend our time together. Since Thanksgiving, Mom has been counting the days until my arrival.
We cried on the day that we finalized the decision and we’ve cried a few times since. Tears are always at the ready if we mention anything about Christmas, so we try not to. Because Mom is ninety-three, we hope she will be one of the first people to receive a vaccination. Then I will be able to see her, hopefully as soon as March.
Although I know the months will fly by between now and then and although the darkness before the dawn is just a thin veil, our despair is palpable.
It’s 6:30 AM as I write these words and the darkness of the night before still clings to the earth. Although this is the darkest part of the year, six months from now when summer has returned, at 6:30 in the morning the sun will have already breached the mountains by an hour, and I will have to close my curtains if I hope to still be asleep at this hour. It’s difficult to remember that in the present darkness.
Sometimes we can only see the darkness, even when dawn is so close. But sometimes it feels too difficult to reach out and pierce the thin veil between despair and hope.
But we must. So here’s another perspective for our darkest hour. Bear, my newest adopted Newfoundland dog, on occasion wakes me at 2 or 3 a.m. with a need to go outside. Awoken from my nest of down comforter and pillows to brace myself for coldest hour of the night, is never a favorite thing.
However, this otherwise miserable hour is also when the stars sparkle brightest. And that is my reward. A reward which I argue outweighs the discomfort of the cold and interrupted sleep.
Our exhaustion can lead us to succumb to the darkness to forget to look up and outwards, even as the breaking dawn outlines the mountaintops. But I want to remind you of this: Our greatest joy comes from the darkness, illuminates the night, and heralds a new dawn. Joy. Joy. Joy!
8” Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And [c]behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. 10 Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great JOY which will be to all people. 11 For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a [d]manger.”
13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying:
14 “Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace, goodwill[e] toward men!” (Luke 2:8-14, NKJ)
Many years ago, I lived in New York City. At two or three a.m. if I looked up towards the heavens I would see a grey sky, perhaps a haze of white, reflecting the ever present lights of the city. The stars were still there of course, but invisible behind the man-made lights below.
The stars I see now are visible because I live on the edge of wilderness. The city lights are a distant memory and in my home in the woods, darkness is welcome. The darker the night, the brighter the heavens.
This is the hope I must hold onto. Every day between now and when I fly to Florida to see my mother will be a time of darkness. There is no way to sugarcoat it.
But we can also see it as a time to draw closer to one another by phone and video chat. We can look forward to our reunion. We can share our Christmas faith. We can wait to see one another, just as we wait again to celebrate the coming of our savior, Jesus Christ.
Hold on dear friends. It may be darkest before the dawn, but the Light which overcame the darkness is on its way.