Christmas for the anxious.
“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” John 1:5.
Sometimes it can seem like Christmas brings out our deepest anxieties and fears. Tension within the family, fear of rejection, uncertainty about who we are – or fear that who we are is not acceptable – becomes even worse when we’re confronted with the images and ideals of a ‘happy Christmas’. Anxiety can become a constant companion, tightening our chests and forcing us into a dark corner we’re unable to leave. The darkness closes round us; we can’t move away from it, we can only curl in on ourselves.
Christmas can seem a long way from that dark – it’s all bright lights, tinsel, and playing happy families.
And yet much of the story plays out in the dark – even the kitschiest Nativity scene is illuminated by starlight and a lantern or two, neither of which are very bright. The stable must have been a place of fear and pain for Mary, at least to begin with.
The prologue to John’s Gospel, too, speaks of darkness in a way that resonates with me as someone who struggles with anxiety. “The light shines in darkness” – it doesn’t say that the darkness is totally destroyed, at least not here and now. One day, perhaps, all will be blazing light and our anxieties and fears will vanish. But for now, the darkness is still present – only there is a light in it.
Knowing the light of Christ doesn’t make the darkness of fears and anxiety vanish. But it shines in that darkness, as Jesus comes to join us. There’s plenty of fear, anxiety and darkness in the Christmas story, even after Jesus’ birth, as we see in the story of the massacre of the Innocents and the flight in to Egypt. But the light shines on, all the same, and it “will not be overcome”.
Even though it’s not the best translation choice, I always like the way the King James Bible renders John 1:5 “and the darkness comprehended it not.” Sometimes, when I’m feeling particularly ground down by anxiety, I feel like my own anxious darkness is overwhelming everything except the bare minimum to keep functioning, and I certainly don’t feel that I “comprehend” the world around me, much less God’s will and love. But the light is still there, whether I understand or perceive it at this moment.
It will never be overcome by the darkness, and one day it will overcome the darkness in its turn.
That’s what Christmas is really about. That’s the light and love that Jesus means. And if we can’t see it clearly now, we can know that we will one day. No anxiety can ever change that.