Andrea and I put up the tree Sunday night. The humble Fraser fir had sat naked for a day in my living room, after I’d carted it from the tree farmer’s lot off Lake Michigan Drive. We draped it with little star-like lights while Sarah McLachlan sang “noel, noel” and Vince Guaraldi made waterfall gossamer of “What Child is This?” I saved for last the bubble lights, the same kind that enchanted me as a child at my Nana’s house in Detroit.
We hung with care the old-fashioned ornaments: the gold baubles, the flying Peter Pan that my daughter Emily gave me long ago, the jumping jack only I am allowed to hang. We also trimmed my front window with lights, framing the tree for passersby on the sidewalk out front. Then we sat back and admired our handiwork, glowing softly and twinkling with memories already made. There it will stand for the duration of the season, filling my home with its sweet aroma.
I had considered not putting up a tree this year. Just didn’t feel like I had the energy for it. So much seemed to militate against Christmas cheer. The shortening days are made darker by the strife of this poor world. The daily onslaught of vitriol and violence wears me down; the demonizing of political foes, the routine slaughter of innocents and innocence.
The world seems darker. It’s a place I barely recognize anymore. I still love my country but I don’t much like it these days. Most people are good and decent. Many work to improve the lot of others. But their goodness and decency don’t matter to those out to divide and destroy us. How are we supposed to sing the carols of old, light the candles of Hanukkah and trim the tree in the midst of such meanness and mayhem?
Well, it seems this is a very old battle, this vying of darkness and light. Our Old World ancestors used to build bonfires against the coming of winter solstice. Today we drench our porches and yards with luminous reindeer and mangers. We put up a darn good fight for the light.
Richard Rohr reminded me of the ancient battle in his Advent reading this morning:
“(A)t a certain point, we have to surrender to the fact that the darkness has always been there, and the only real question is how to receive the light and spread the light.” He quotes John’s Gospel: “the light shines on inside of the darkness, and the darkness will not overcome it.”
Lately, the darkness wants to overcome me with negativity and despair. Some days it wins. But I push back against it. I rage and hope and refuse to submit. I look for the light, what Rohr calls “the narrow birth canal of God into the world.”
And so I return to my work, shining light on goodness and decency where I can, finding comfort and joy in friends and family. And I drape the tree with Andrea, letting her love and Nana’s bubble lights remind me of all that is sweet and precious in this poor old world.