I specifically purchased it. Went out of my way to make sure I had it the night before I left. Packed it securely in the bottom of my suitcase. It was ready, batteries and all.
And there it stayed for the whole trip. Never actually being used. It sat quietly beneath a layer of clothes while I walked off without it. And at the moment when I needed it most, I discovered I had left it behind.
A few months ago, my dad asked me to write a short introduction for an advent booklet he was compiling for my home church. Something simple. 400 words. Just a quick welcome to the advent season.
As I thought about how to intro into a season like advent in 400 words, one in particular kept rising to the surface of my mind.
We string strands of it around trees and over fireplaces, place candles in window sills, and sit in their glow at silent Lord’s Supper services. Many of our most treasured traditions during this season revolve around light.
As much as we tout the merriness and brightness of Christmas, as much as we try to drown out the darkness of the previous year with our colored lights and flickering candles, and attempt to cover up the emptiness with piles of gifts and sweets, it often isn’t enough. There are those standing next to you in line while you skim these words, sitting beside you in waiting rooms, that do not look on this season with light. Or maybe it isn’t them at all; maybe it’s you. Maybe the pair of eyes reading these words are having trouble seeing the light all around them.
Maybe this holiday comes as a rude interruption to grief – the rosy cheeks and inflated decorations appearing garish next to the loss you’ve suffered. Maybe it is a reminder of someone who never came back or someone who never showed up in the first place. Maybe it is a matter of expectation versus reality. The bright colors and happy endings you see inside your TV screen make your current surroundings look dull or bleak. Maybe the string of plastic bulbs wrapped around your Christmas tree is all the light you can find this season.
But let me tell you with certainty, there is more light to be seen.
The atmosphere was cool and damp – a welcome reprieve after a long day in the hot and dusty Israeli desert. I stepped carefully down each step, paying careful attention to where and how my foot landed on the twisty iron stairs. We marched forward and continued our travels south. Stairs and stairs and stairs and then, just when I thought I’d never see the sun again, another set of stairs to top it all off. We multi-tasked the best we could, listening to our guide spout facts about these historic depths while trying to maintain our balance beneath the centuries-old stone.
By the time we arrived at the main attraction, there were 130 feet of stone and earth separating me from the sun, and I was watching my friends one by one step through a small opening in the stone wall.
Hezekiah’s tunnel. We had come all this way to experience this. Down into the depths of the earth we had walked and walked and walked for this moment. And the thing I needed most for this adventure had been left in my hotel room, miles and miles away.
Up to this point, we had still been in a place that supplied electricity, but now we were entering a space so ancient and deep, artificial light had not found a permanent place there. That silly headlamp I had taken such care to pack for this express purpose sat in my suitcase turned off and unused.
I had two options. Number one, sit this next adventure out and climb back up to the light of the sun. Or number two, borrow some light.
As we approached the tunnel, I confessed my situation to a few friends as they pulled out their own headlamps and strapped them around their ponytails.
“I forgot mine. It’s back at the hotel. Can I walk between you two so that I can see?”
They kindly agreed to this solution, and we stood in the stalled queue awaiting our turn to step into the darkness.
I will tell you candidly that while I am grateful I got the unique opportunity to walk, crouched and uncomfortable, for half an hour under the earth with ice-cold water streaming steadily over my feet, I don’t necessarily feel a distinct urge to repeat the scenario anytime soon. We were behind a group of college students that kept stopping at inopportune moments for what felt like an interminable amount of time, and while I am not traditionally claustrophobic, I did make my discomfort in the situation known to the crowd ahead of me.
But as I watched my shadow follow me through the cavern, stopping and starting as we moved along, I was distinctly and profoundly aware that the light creating it was not mine.
I was careful with each step, making sure my feet landed securely. My hands dragged along the walls beside me. My five-foot, ten-inch frame bent and stretched beneath the ever-changing ceiling. Eden walked in front of me, her curly hair squashed beneath the band of her headlight. Adrianne walked behind me, careful not to bump into my protruding backpack. Both girls had their chins tilted to the floor of the cave, and battery-operated beams from their headlamps created circles of illumination around our feet.
Our feet. Theirs and mine.
Even without my own, I could see because of theirs. I borrowed the light. I walked between them – one before me, one behind – and made it through every moment of darkness because they shared their light.
Maybe you are the one without this season. Maybe things look a little too dark for any celebration. Maybe you can’t fathom how the words peace and joy factor into this season.
Maybe you’ve found yourself staring down the barrel of a dark tunnel, and you’ve forgotten your light.
Lift your eyes, and find a light-bearer. They are there all around you willing to stand before you, behind you, beside you and let you step in the circle of their light. Ask for help, and don’t walk alone in the dark. See this truth in the borrowed light: “There is no night that can steal the promises His coming brings to us.” No night, not even the one you’re in. Jesus, the baby born in a manger, the Savior sent to rescue us, is Light enough for even this.
And listen to me, light-bearers. You who know the Light of all the world. You who know that we celebrate because He came to dispel every darkness. Be easy to find. Look at the those around you this season and declare to them “This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: “God is light; in Him there is no darkness at all” (1 Jn. 1:5). Point the watching world to the manger, to the cross, to the empty grave and invite them to “come and see what God has done.”
May the ones who find themselves facing darkness this season also find themselves between Light-bearers who promise to walk with them. And may we who bear the Light remember what we carry and freely offer to share.