Farewell to Gloom
Rediscovering joy in the Christmas season.
This is the first of a four-part Advent series entitled After Darkness, Light.
According to the American Psychological Association, nearly half of Americans experience an increase in anxiety and depression around Christmas time. Reasons for this range from financial stress, loneliness, family conflicts, nostalgia, and a general feeling of busyness and over-extension. For many, the Christmas season is simply anything but the most wonderful time of the year.
Certainly this phenomenon represents a great paradox within our society: what is supposed to be a season of hope and peace, rest and gratitude, joy and festive celebration is so often just the opposite. Before we know it, our promised holiday has turned on us to become a time full of stress and fatigue, grief and sadness, relational conflict and exhausting consumerism. Despite our having been promised something brighter, there can often be a gloomy cloud hanging over us at this time of the year.
Perhaps you, Dear Reader, can relate?
I am bringing up the painful side of the Christmas season because I think many of us anticipate and feel these things even though we try to overlook them. As we approach the end of the year and the Christmas season arrives, often we become more aware of the hardships or losses we have faced. Because Christmas is traditionally a time to gather with family, it is also easy for us to focus on family tensions, relational letdowns, or on the previous loss of a loved one.
Yet, the promise of Christmas is the promise of joy beating out sorrow and hope overcoming despair. It is the promise of light breaking through and overcoming the darkness. It is the promise of saying farewell to gloom.
Throughout the Bible, the birth of Christ is described in exactly these terms. For example, an oft-cited passage of Scripture at Christmastime is Isaiah 9. Here we are told that, when the Messiah comes, it will be as if light has dawned. "The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light,” Isaiah writes. “Those who are living in a land of deep darkness, upon them has light shone.”
In the Bible, “light” symbolizes God’s revelation and guidance, His goodness and holiness, and also His presence. The Psalms describe God as being clothed in radiant light (Psalm 104:2) and His Word as being a light to guide our lives (Psalm 119:1). Thus, Light, in biblical language, is a source of great comfort and guidance because it symbolizes God Himself.
What Isaiah’s prophecy foretold was of a day when God’s presence—His Light—would overwhelm all of the darkness of this world. On that day, Isaiah said, “there will be no more gloom for her who was in anguish.” The prophet had envisioned a time when God’s people would no longer be troubled because the Messiah had come and dwelt among them.
Dear Reader, do you feel like you are living in a land of deep darkness right now? Well, the promise of Christmas is that you are not alone because Jesus Christ is the Light of which Isaiah foretold. He has come into the world to be our eternal source of comfort and guidance. Through His Incarnation, death, and resurrection, Jesus has given us the comfort of salvation and of eternal life. By giving us His Spirit, Jesus continues to comfort and to guide us and is near and available to each of us. This is what we celebrate at Christmas.
Henri Nouwen writes, "This is the great mystery of Christmas that continues to give us comfort and consolation: we are not alone on our journey. The God of love who gave us life sent his only Son to be with us at all times and in all places, so that we never have to feel lost in our struggles but always can trust that he walks with us.”
Advent is traditionally a season of longing and expectation; it is a time to reorient ourselves to the hope we have in Christ. And what is that hope? It is the hope of salvation, yes, but it is also the hope of Christ’s enduring presence. The promise of Christmas is that you will never face anything alone. When Christ comes again, He will deliver us from all our earthly struggles forever, turning all our sorrows into permanent joy and reigning in peace. But until that day, His presence is enough to brighten our gloomiest days.
Adam Smith is a Ministry Associate in Washington, D.C.