I have been thinking a lot lately about keeping the presence of God this Advent and Christmas. Amidst all the busyness and the short dark days, how can I remember that we are preparing to celebrate the Light of Love which pierced the darkness so many years ago? How can I take consolation in that when I am worried or grieving, especially when others around me seem happier or more fulfilled?
St. Josemaria Escriva taught his friends to greet Our Lord and Our Lady when they saw statues and images on their daily walks to work and school. We don’t live in Spain, and so most of us probably don’t see grottos and niches dedicated to the saints placed here and there along the way. What then can serve as our reminders that God is accompanying us, and that everything is good if we keep His presence?
Many years ago, a friend encouraged me to find Christ in the secular holiday decorations as well as the religious ones. If you know the stories and the symbols, you know that Christmas trees, wreaths and candles are for Christ, even if those shop owners and neighbors who put them up don’t keep your Advent and Christmas tradition. Santa himself points to Christ, if we choose to see him that way.
The most ubiquitous decoration, and the one which takes my breath away, are the Christmas lights. White or colored, elegant or tacky, well done or a little bit askew, Christmas lights grab our attention when night seems to begin at 5 o’clock. I am so grateful to my neighbors who take the time to put lights out, because they are a huge source of joy to me and to my children. I try to make sure that I link that joy to a sense of presence of God, which can sustain my from my drive home in the early evening through until bedtime, so many hours later.
I was surprised the other night when my son asked, from the back of the van, if we could do our “tradition” and take a slow lap around the neighborhood to enjoy the lights. I guess I’ve done this every year since we lived in New Jersey, and it has made an impression on the children. Here’s to a Christmas tradition which is free, takes no advance planning and no special outfits, and gives a little joy and peace!. We compare and contrast the decorations, some kids love that the pediatrician’s house has thousands of white lights, others prefer the single colored tree in front of another home. The last house in our neighborhood has two large, symmetrical windows and there is a huge, lit Christmas tree in each one. We stop in front of that house and stare. The first year I cried because I was pregnant and exhausted and overwhelmed by the beauty. It felt like a gift from God to me, that beautiful house. Now I cry every year when I drive up to that house, still overwhelmed and grateful for the Light in the darkness.