Excerpted from The Greatest Gift by Ann Voskamp
Light the Advent candles. Light them, light them.
Trim the wicks, watch the reflections, sit in the dark and wait.
Wait through the long, black night. Wait through the black that gets in your marrow. Wait through the dying, the cries you can’t hear, the lurching gasp of the last death heaves. Sit through the night and the losses that scrape the sides of a soul, the burning tears that run, run through this night even now. Taste their saltiness and the darkness that seeps in cold at the corners and stains a thousand souls all alone.
Wait in the cosmic dark, inhale the black of an endless universe, stare into it and feel the darkness get darker.
“Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark,” wrote the American astronomer and astrophysicist Carl Sagan.19
That loneliness can envelop you in a loud room full of voices, when you stand at the window and watch the dusk thicken, when you turn out the last light.
To cross even the vast blackness of the Milky Way alone would take one hundred thousand years, traveling at the blurring speed of light. You turn this page under a roof, in a country, on a continent, near an ocean, on a planet—a pinpoint of a planet, a spinning orb waiting in the dark, waiting in the ache of Advent. You, this speck on a speck, floating in a ray of light, on a pale-blue dot suspended in the lonely blackness of space.
You can sit in the dark and feel the reverberating echo of Carl Sagan’s words through our impossible emptiness, like a blaring headline for the world: “In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.”20
That is what one of our wise men decreed to us who are living, walking, dying in the darkness—that there’s “no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.”
No hint of help. No rumor of relief. No sign of saving. For us waiting through the night, waiting through the dark.
And then . . . there it comes to the waiting, to the leaning, to the cold—a dawn! Light! Light!
Not mere candles wavering in the face of the black but a dawn— a dawn to crack back the black, to pry up the dark with bright shards, to peel it back and flood the cold room with light.
A light from beyond, erupting, heaving the black right back. A fire that the people walking in darkness did not set—but that they saw.
A light that the people in the dark couldn’t ignite, couldn’t inflame, and couldn’t fabricate—but could only find.
Christmas can only be found.
Christmas cannot be bought. Christmas cannot be created. Christmas cannot be made by hand, lit up, set out, dreamed up. Christmas can only be found.
In the crèche. In the cradling trough. In the mire and in the stench and in the unexpected—and only in the dawning of Christ.
True, Mr. Sagan, there is no “hint” that help will come from somewhere else to save us. There is a dawn in the dark, there is unstoppable light, there is God-glory blazing.
Our God who breathes stars in the dark—He breathes Bethlehem’s Star, then takes on lungs and breathes in stable air. We are saved from hopelessness because God came with infant fists and opened wide His hand to take the iron-sharp edge of our sins.
Our God who forms and delivers the black of the heavens—He waits patient like an embryo in a womb and delivers Himself to free you. We are saved from forever pain, because God pierced the dark and came to the pinpoint of us in the universe and took the nails.
Our God who cradles whole inking galaxies in the palm of His hand, whom highest heavens cannot contain—He folds Himself into our skin, and He uncurls His newborn
fingers in the cradle of a barn feeding trough . . . and we are saved from ourselves.
We are saved from our loneliness because God is love and He can’t stand to leave us by ourselves, to ourselves.
That is the message of Christmas. The message of Christmas is not that we can make peace. Or that we can make love, make light, make gifts, or make this world save itself.
The message of Christmas is that this world’s a mess and we can never save ourselves from ourselves and we need a Messiah.
For unto us a Child is born.
The Light never comes how you expect it. It comes as the unlikely and unexpected—straight into Bethlehem unlikely and the feed trough hopeless, and Christmas whispers there is always hope. It doesn’t matter how dark the dark is; a light can still dawn. It doesn’t matter if the world whispers, “There’s not a hint that help will come from elsewhere,” telling us that nothing will ever improve, get better, change. God favors the darkest places so you can see His light the brightest.
And once the light of Christ shatters your dark, shadows forever flee your shadowlands. There’s no going back and living in the dark; you live in the impenetrable, safe Light of light, and Christmas never ends for you. A Christian never stops living Christmas. True, you cannot light Christmas—because it’s Christmas that lights you.
It’s Christmas that dawns on you, and you only really believe in Christmas when you really live it. When you light a dark world and the unexpected places with a brave flame of joy; when you warm the cold, hopeless places with the daring joy that God is with us, God is for us, God is in us; when you are a wick to light hope in the dark—then you believe in Christmas. When you really believe in Christmas, you believe there is really hope for everyone. When you get Christmas, people get hope from you—they don’t lose it.
Unless you keep passing on the miracle of hope, you live like Christmas is a myth.
So light the Advent candles. Light them, light them.
And you can see it, with every lit candle, sparks of the dawning.
Hope catching on everything.
Unwrapping More of His Love in the World
Bring someone a candle today and light it for him or her. Tell the person that you pray the light of Christ may warm his or her heart today. Fear not— don’t hide His light under a bushel!
Late on a sleepy, star-spangled night, those angels peeled back the sky just like you would tear open a sparkling Christmas present. Then, with light and joy pouring ut of Heaven like water through a broken dam, they began to shout and sing the message that baby Jesus had been born. The world had a Savior! The angels called it “Good News,” and it was.