It happens every year about this time. I can feel my soul beginning to retreat. My spirit has spent the warmer months of the year fattening itself up, feasting on the sacraments, the scriptures, the communion of the saints, and a host of other rich delights. Now movement is cumbersome, the world grows colder, and a time of rest is calling me.
I find shelter in our home, a quiet place focused on peace, a safe place where busyness is unwelcome and my family enjoys the simple pleasures of life together, where we move carefully and deliberately through the Advent of our Lord.
It’s here where I’ll spend most of my time until spring returns, where I’ll bury myself until the sun rises higher and pulls me out of winter’s soil, calling me to green and flower as I bear the fruit that is being conceived in me during the deepening of the year.
It’s here where I’ll remain safe from planning and parties and crowds and Secret Santas and clearance sales, where I’ll keep Christmas long past the new year, where I’ll live in constant wonder of the incarnation.
“He comes to us as one unknown,
a breath unseen, unheard;
as though within a heart of stone,
or shriveled seed in darkness sown,
a pulse of being stirred.”
I don’t like noise of any kind, really. It could be the sounds of a dozen TV’s in a sports bar or the visual noise of some giant LED billboard downtown or even the emotional noise of a room full of fake people. Exposing myself to these kinds of things feels like going three minutes with Mike Tyson—I may cover my head, but there’s still body-blow after body-blow.
But the noise of the Christmas season is the worst. So many people sprinting everywhere, spending every dollar they have—and lots they don’t—from Thanksgiving to Twelfth Night, desperate people who trade comfort and joy for Black Friday and Cyber Monday and hope that, at least, no one will be disappointed. It’s no way to live. I think it’s as much of a spirit of anti-Christ as this earth will ever see.
“He comes when souls in silence lie
and thoughts of day depart,
half-seen upon the inward eye,
a falling star across the sky
of night within the heart.”
So I run away, because I have to, so I can survive. I run away to places where there is less noise, or none at all. It’s an almost-involuntary response, like running away from a bonfire when the wind blows the smoke and heat right into your face. But there are a lot places you can end up when your eyes are full of smoke and your lungs are screaming for oxygen. And there are a lot of fires to run away from.
As I navigate away from the World’s dimming light, a fear slips from behind a tree and creeps toward me, because there was a time, not very long ago, when I retreated far away from any light, to a place from which I couldn’t find my way back again. I can remember the cold fingers of darkness closing around me so tightly that the only thing I could think to do was to retreat further into the darkness—as if I could find some even-darker place to hide!
“He comes to us in sound of seas,
the ocean’s fume and foam;
yet small and still upon the breeze,
a wind that stirs the tops of trees,
a voice to call us home.”
And yet, when this fear tries to entice or intimidate me back down into that pit, the Spirit of God, the Spirit of grace and peace, the Spirit who promised to walk beside me—or chase me down when I run!—that Spirit takes a firm grip of my hand and says, “Follow me. Away from the loneliness and depression and endless existential crises. Follow me.”
He leads me to a place of peace, as place of retreat, a place he knows I need during these months when the sun shines so little, when the ancient biology I inherited from prehistoric humanity screams inside me, “The light is dying!” He leads me to a place of rest, safe and inviting and full of good gifts, but most importantly, it’s a place that is bright with warm light. Within is a radiance that comes only from the Light of the World, made flesh in ancient history, but also incarnate within my heart and mind continuously.
And even if the space I grant him is as lowly as a stable full of animals, he is born in that place, and everything is suddenly and irrevocably changed.
Lord Jesus, may your glorious light shine brightly in me. May the song of the angels find its way to my lips, a song of peace and good will. May the evidence of your coming into my life be unmistakable, so that some may ask, “Is this the place where the King has been born today?”
Even so. Come, Lord Jesus.