Everywhere I go these days, it’s cold. The official beginning of winter is less than three weeks away, and here in the Midwest the temperatures have dropped occasionally into the 20s. That reminds me: I hate cold weather. The chill stays with me, whether in my TV room, my bedroom, the car, my office, or my favorite restaurant. Thank God for sweaters and down blankets and my bulky University of Missouri hooded sweatshirt.
Did I mention I hate cold weather? I’m not a big fan of the dark of night, either — another extra gift of winter.
More often than I like, I wake up, glance at the clock radio on my nightstand and see that it’s about 2 or 3 in the morning. The bedroom is dark. No, it’s darker than dark: it’s black. And that deep darkness overwhelms me. This has gone on for a very long time. I’m tired of it. But in a sad yet permanent way, I have accepted it.
I stare at the ceiling — at least where I assume the ceiling is, because I can’t actually see it. I vaguely make out the shape of Donna sleeping next to me. The glow of the clock barely illuminates more than a few inches. So really, there is only a hint of light.
The bed may be soft, the comforter and blanket may be warm, yet I feel cold in a unique way, uncomfortable, like I’m in the wrong place.
I feel alone.
Often, I cry softly. I know my wife lies at my side. I should find cheer in that, in almost 31 years of marriage, in our friendship and the love, in the way she has stood with me through better and worse. I reflect on all the gifts and reasons for which I should be grateful: for my family and friends, my job and home and so many other blessings tangible and intangible. I consider all of the good experiences of the past. Often, I thank God for each of them, one at a time, and eventually fall back to sleep — if not with a smile, at least with some solace woven into the sadness.
Yet so many times, because of the depression I’ve struggled with more than a dozen years, the darkness chokes off those encouraging thoughts.
I slowly recite The Lord’s Prayer and hold each line in my mind. I meditate on what the words mean to me, what they mean for me: on what His will is for my life and how it would feel for that will to be done.
I clear my thoughts completely and ask only for the peace and warmth of His presence. I have felt that presence before, so I contemplate how good it would feel to know that specific delight again. I look for an open place in my heart, the hole that can be filled only by my God. If only He would visit. If only He would enter into my existence right now. Over and over, I whisper: “Come, my Lord. Come, my Lord.”
In time, my eyes adjust to the darkness. I see Donna’s face. I make out the dressers in the room, the couch, the full-length mirror, the three crosses on my nightstand. The tranquility has returned to my soul, bringing with it the kind of repose that allows my contemplation to blossom. The other distractions are gone. Any tears that roll down my face now are those of quiet elation. My Lord has come.
This was the world — our world — for many, many years. Enveloped in darkness.
But waiting. The world was waiting. Waiting for comfort. Waiting, with hope, for the peace and the warmth of God’s presence. And then a young woman gave birth to a baby in a manger.
“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son …” (John 3:16).
If Adam and Eve had resisted temptation, there would have been no need for the Word to become flesh. Because of that original sin, the world was plunged into darkness. Humankind needed a redeemer. Because of that sin, God became man.
And so we should be grateful for the darkness. In the darkness, we know the fear and the emptiness. We feel the hole in our soul and ask our God to fill it. Hope — the hope of Advent — gradually comes as our eyes slowly begin to adjust in the dark. And we wait.
But we have something incredible for which we are waiting. In the darkness, we realize our need. And we get to experience God, in Jesus, in a way that never would have happened otherwise.
“For God so loved the world …”
I have said before that when my life here has ended, all I want the world to know about me is that I love the light that is Jesus, that I’m crazy about my God. Through our relationship, I have been given a message to share with the world, especially anyone who spends time in the dark:
God loves you. He really, really loves you.
And that is the real meaning of Christmas.