It is a complicated time of year. Lights. Decorations. Music. Festivities. Gatherings. Gifts. Parties. Shopping. All things holiday are everywhere you go. On top of that, if you have anything to do with academia, end of the semester projects, papers, and finals are staring you down like the headlight of a train. Amid it all there is a cultural expectation that this is “the most wonderful time of the year,” with dreams of a white Christmas, jingle bells ringing, angels singing, joy and laughter filling the air.
But what if it’s not? What if this is not the happiest time of the year for you? What if the holidays are hard? What if the holidays bring sadness, heaviness, loneliness, thoughts of loved ones who are no longer with us or the realization that your family does not fit the image of the perfect, family greeting card? What if your holiday is marked by illness or loss, depression or difficulty? What then? How do you make it through the coming holy days, if this time of year is a more of a burden than it is bright?
Every Sunday night during the academic year, students gather in the Chapel at 10 p.m. to sing Candlelight Evening Prayer. Much of the service is the same week after week. The hymns, the reading, and the message are different week by week, but everything else is dependable from one week to the next. We light our candles, we pray, we quiet our hearts and minds, and as God’s people have done for centuries, we sing into and against the darkness.
Near the middle of the service, right after we have heard a message that is intended to give us comfort, strength, and hope for the coming week, these words are spoken: the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. From the first chapter of the Gospel of John, these words remind us that in Jesus, the One whose coming we anticipate during Advent and celebrate at Christmas, in Jesus – the Light has overcome any and every darkness that we will face. The Light of Jesus is brighter than the darkness is deep.
In the rhythms of my own life, I often find it helpful to have mantras, sayings, or truths to repeat to help keep me centered and to help me remember who God is and what God has promised for me and for the world. Reminding myself often throughout each day of the things I need to hear can help me live into those holy truths, those holy promises, moment by moment. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it is a good mantra for any time, but especially for this time of year.
Even if this is the happiest time of the year for you, for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, the days continue to get shorter. Darkness descends earlier each day and lasts a little longer each night. Even if your spirits are bright, there is more literal darkness to each day right now than there is light. And, as much good as there is in the world, there is also a whole lot of brokenness, sorrow, and pain. So why not claim these holy words as your own proclamation of hope and trust in these shortening days and lengthening nights?
In the morning, when you are getting ready for the day, look in the mirror and remind yourself that the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
On your way to class, or as you are sitting for an exam, say it again: the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
Sitting at your desk, clearing out the day’s emails, or working through your to-do list, let it be the affirmation that helps you keep perspective: the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
When you read the news or hear of yet another disaster someplace in the world, let it be your assertion against the darkness of the world: the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
As you face your own struggles or times of sadness when others may be toasting one another in good cheer, let it remind you that the darkness does not have the final word: the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
And as you go to bed each night, amid dark skies hovering over a restless and weary world, why not let it be the last thing on your lips? The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
Whatever these holy days hold for you, it is my hope and prayer that the light of Jesus will shine into and amid the darkness of each of your lives, and lead you into God’s peace for you, and for our world.
Nov. 29, 2017
Rev. James A. Wetzstein and Rev. Dr. Charlene M. Rachuy Cox serve as university pastors at Valpo and take turns writing weekly reflections.