Almost overnight, enchantment stole through my neighborhood and city. Here and there, dotting homes and yards, Christmas lights appeared. A mismatched string of blue and white draped over the fence across the street. A twinkling porch two doors down. A riot of color in the park across from the hospital. Signs of irrepressible hope emerging from a dark night of the soul.
The same thing is happening in cities and towns across the globe. In the midst of the pandemic, hope is showing up in the most mundane and innocent of ways: in Christmas lights. Whether in low wattage hope flung across a window or in a dazzling display that illuminates an entire yard, Christmas lights say it all: death, disorientation, denial will not have the last word.
I write in praise of Christmas lights: echo of the star of Bethlehem, reminder of the light of the world, symbol of childlike joy. If the world ever needed these simple reminders of light, of family, of salvation, we need them now.
In fact, the pandemic has caused us to long for the normal, unassuming things we once took for granted: a hug, a handshake, a smile. How we miss the unselfconscious gathering of people and sharing the same air as others. Not to mention worship and song, even sporting events. We miss visiting the sick in the hospital, and bedside goodbyes when death is near. Oh, to sit close to someone, to snuggle a grandchild, to pass the peace! The sheer normalcy of going to work. Yes, all of these things have changed dramatically in 2020. Christmas lights remind us of enduring hope.
We want normal, but it’s still a long way off. At least not until a vaccine becomes widespread, and maybe not even then. That means Christmas this year won’t be easy or normal for many people. Loved ones will be missing around the tables. Festive celebrations will take on a decidedly different tone. Christmas Eve services will likely be on Zoom. Probably Santa and the elves will even be wearing masks.
Maybe that’s why I found the Christmas lights in my neighborhood strangely grounding. Twinkling reminders that someday it would all be okay again. And that in the meantime, it was okay to let out my breath, and to relax a little.
We can all use some spiritual grounding at this time of year. To help you get through this season, I am offering an online spiritual retreat to prepare you: Christmas through Jewish Eyes. In this three-part experience, you’ll have the chance to explore the connection between Chanukah, Christmas and the light of Christ (session one), the connection between the Holy Family and your family (session two), and new and ancient meanings of salvation (session three). All shared through a Jewish reading of Christmas texts, carols, and stories. I hope you’ll join me for a soulful journey this Advent.
If ever we needed Christmas, 2020 is the year. So as Advent unfolds and gives way to Christmas proper, may your hearts be as bright and illumined as simple Christmas lights.