In our Lutheran tradition, Christmas is preceded by four weeks of Advent. Amid sales, shopping, decorating, parties, and presents, Advent calls us to remember an ancient story born in simplicity: a small family, living at the edge of poverty, and a child born far away from home.
Light is the central symbol of Advent. Each week of the Advent season we light one more candle, so that as the days around us grow darker and the nights longer, we remember the power of even the smallest light. Sometimes we say that light is a form of resistance that shadows cannot overcome. And yet darkness has its own gifts too: silence, rest, peace. Nothing can be born without darkness.
No one really knows when Jesus was born. It probably wasn’t in December, since shepherds would not have been “abiding in the fields by night” at that time of year. But early Christians in the West, looking for a time when celebration was needed, settled on a time when many of us search for hope and joy: the deepening days of winter. When better to deck the halls, show extra generosity, light more candles, than the coldest days of our year?
As Christians, Jesus’ birth invites us to pay attention to all those on the edges of our world. Amid all the fun and celebrations of a holiday season, Advent invites us to remember the power of small things, everyday kindnesses, generosity that lasts. With friends, family, and community of every faith and human tradition, may something new be born of the darkness this December: a will for peace, a light of hope, a true love for our neighbors. No gift would be greater.