December 24, 2023
The Christmas Moon
It’s Christmas night. The gifts are opened, the family members have departed, the wrapping paper is cleaned up, and a man strolls out of his back door onto the lawn, to consider the day gone by. For our reflection tonight, let’s just listen in on his inner conversation with himself:
“It’s funny how the night and the light seem ‘used up’ – out here in the dark, in the cold. And there sits the moon – almost full. A waxing gibbous moon, so they say. So here on Christmas night, like the infant in the manger, it could be the hopeful start of something, or maybe the ominous end of something.
“The presents are done with, the dinner is over, the conversation sagged and then turned into ‘goodbyes.’ What’s left of Christmas when Christmas day is over? All the emphasis for weeks, even months, is on Christmas morning: presents, decorating the tree, lights, Christmas stockings, all meant to prepare everything just so for the magic morning. We’re big on mornings. The only nighttime that matters at this time of year is Christmas eve. But night passes and day becomes night again, just like all the other 364 days of the year, and suddenly here I am again, looking up at the Christmas moon.
“Christmas always seems so disappointing. Every year I get ready for a time full of wonder: snowfall, a crackling fireplace, Gorge Bailey singing “Hark the Herald Angels” for the 65th time, and long-lost family members coming home to heal the hurts of many years with a woolen scarf and a wondrous twinkle of Christmas cheer. But I always wind up here, too soon, staring up at the Christmas moon. And the moon sets, and nighttime slips away.
“I’ve followed that moon through all its courses for all the years of my life. It waxes and wanes. Oddly, it never disappoints. Unlike the consistently underwhelming experience of Christmas day, the lunar light is dependably compelling and fulfilling. Even when it hides behind the clouds, its presence is felt in a dim glow across the lawn.
“I wonder what it is in Christmas that I keep searching for and never finding. Is it some special gift: the perfect present for a loved one, or just the thing I’ve always wanted? Could I ever measure up to the paradigm of gift giving – those three guys in bathrobes and crowns who brought gold, and frankincense, and myrrh to the manger . . . or even the ‘little drummer boy?’ If I search the malls diligently enough, or surf from ‘e-bay,’ to ‘amazon dot com,’ might I, on some Christmas yet to come, find ‘gift-giving fulfilment?’ Or is my quest instead for the best time ever with family? Is it for the most satisfying holiday meal? Is it for some indescribable special feeling like I always thought the actors in those TV Christmas specials seemed to have? Is it something so far out of reach, it might as well be . . . the moon?
“I’ve known people whose Christmas dreams seemed so far beyond their grasp the only comfort they could find came in a bottle. I think there must be a dark side to Christmas – the echo of a mad king ordering the slaughter of infants in the desperate hope of putting an end to the irrepressible grace that would supplant his tyranny. There must be something in the season that calls attention to an aching, hollow place inside, that hooded ghost who haunts Scrooge’s Christmas Eve bed, and points a bony finger at our hidden storehouse of hurts and unmet expectations. Maybe people have to keep putting up more and more lights on their houses to ward off the swirling darkness. It’s as if the more lights we put up, the darker it gets. . . . except for the moon. It keeps a steady lamp burning to light our way in the dark, even through the winter solstice.
“It’s cold out here. Suppose I’d better head back inside soon. But I’m still reluctant to leave this lovely moon, and the promise it holds for all the coming phases – reluctant to go back to the desperate glare of the Christmas tree lights, vainly trying to stave off the inevitable demise of the holiday, twinkling away for all their worth, as though this tree won’t be lying in a pool of pine needles in a few days, cold and dead in the woods. But that old moon will still be shining on its carcass.
“Brrrrr! What was it that John wrote in his gospel? Something about a light – ‘the light of all people,’ that’s it. And, ‘that light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.’ I guess I really don’t think that light is like the lights on the houses, or on the streets or the Christmas trees. Those lights are all too . . . temporary, too desperate, too disappointing, too . . . dark. The darkness seems somehow to always overcome those lights. By sometime in January, they’ve all been overcome, defeated, stuffed away in boxes in the attic for another year. If John was right, and ‘the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it,’ then the light he was talking about must be something more like . . . like that old moon up there. Even when it seems to turn its back on us and show us its dark side, we know in the depth of our souls that the sun is still lighting it up. There isn’t any sort of darkness that can ever defeat it: not the clouds; not the deepest or blackest night sky; not the bleak moments of the soul in search of meaning; not the darkness of too many shopping mall Christmas carols, and too many lights, and too many toys; not the anguish of failed love, or the broken-heartedness of loss, or the anxious raging confusion of dreams deferred and unfulfilling Christmases.
“I think John must have been talking about a Christ who is a lot bigger than Christmas. I think he must have been saying something about a Spirit that transcends our traditions and celebrations, a Spirit far more dependable than what we all call “the spirit of Christmas.” He must have meant a Spirit that’s everywhere and at all times accessible, only requiring of us that we pause, and turn to seek it out. I think he must have been talking about a true light, an inner light, a divine, dependable light, one that shines even through our own darkness, one that cannot be overcome by that darkness, no matter how bleak.
“Well, time to go inside before I get frostbite out here.
“Oh, yeah . . . Good night, moon.”