The one thing I really don't like about winter is the short daylight hours. It is just after 4:00 pm Central Time as I write this, and it is already drawing down dark, with heavy cloud cover not helping at all. I struggle with seasonal affective disorder every year, and while I haven't really gone the whole way to deep depression in years, working 3rd shift does not help matters much.
I was thinking about this yesterday afternoon - despite it being dark, 5:00 is still afternoon, not evening - as the outside lights on various houses in our neighborhood went on, and I got to thinking about how much I really detest the gaudiness of all those lights. It is wasteful of electricity, and of the energy necessary to produce electricity. It is gauche. It is part and parcel of the kind of herd mentality of so much of our society - "Everyone else is doing it! It's fun! Don't be such a Grinch!" - the I am reflexively drawn to detest it.
I much prefer one or two small lights inside to a hundreds draped on every eave and cornice of our house outside. While for others, the light should be subtle, almost too dim to see. Like the birth of the Christ child, it should be next to invisible to all except those to whom it has been declared, and even then difficult to find. It should not be a statement of our wealth and position - "Look how much money we can waste!" - but an affirmation of our spiritual poverty.
We live in dark times, indeed. They are getting darker. I worry about the viability of my current employment as the economy worsens. I worry about the viability of our position as the economy worsens. I worry about the kind of world in which my children will come of age. These worries are real, and I do spend a great deal of time wondering how we would manage should the worst happen (and it is always better to keep that in mind, especially with the folks currently in power; they are adept at making the exactly wrong decision every time). Yet, I also know that despair should not win, regardless of the signs and portents. Despair is the council of those who have it all figured out, who know the future. Except, of course, the future is always unknown.
Hope is the small light, easily missed under the pressure of the impending darkness. It is fragile, really. It is the tiny baby, born in a barn, laid in a cow's feeding trough, screaming out his first breath until his mother holds him to her breast. Yet, it is also not the illusion of some ephemeral good that will always be trampled down by the forces of darkness of this world. It is the very real presence and acknowledgment that, not having been written yet, the future is still a blank page, and is open to all sorts of possibilities, some of which are not even imagined. Hope is neither confidence nor optimism that "things always work out for the best". Hope is the acceptance of the grim realities of where we are, but the refusal to insist that just because we are currently lost does not mean we will never find our way out again.
In our present darkness, rather than blind our neighborhood with flashing lights and a yard full of blow-up Santas and reindeer, perhaps we should light one light, to remind us that, instead of the fanciful bulwarks society insists are the only real weapons against the ever-present night, the thin reed of hope is brighter than all the strings of icicles we hang. We should invite others, who goggle at the displays of "holiday cheer" all around, to seek out the light, just as shepherds were told to seek out a baby in a manger so long ago.