baby-fullcathy-headshotBy Cathy Hird

Looking out my window in the middle of the night, I saw one small star twinkling. I knew that if I went outside into the cold clear air, I would see hundreds, but one was enough. While the brilliance of a star-filled sky is glorious, a single light can be a gift.

By the time dawn came, heavy grey had taken over. We have not seen a lot of sun this season. Not only does it rise late and set early, it has been hidden by cloud most days. Too many days have been so foggy we cannot see across the field or down the road.

This is supposed to be a season of light and joy, but for many their situation is a lot like the weather. Dark. Grey. Confusing.

Violence erupted in our world last week in two extreme events. We were reminded that while we long for peace, it is not here.

I have been spending time with a woman who is nearing the end of life due to cancer. It is hard for her and her family to look past the illness and see light.

While some of us gather with family, celebrate with friends, others are alone. With illness in many retirement and nursing homes, there will be loved ones we want to visit that we cannot drop in on. We mailed presents to family living far away, and they will get a phone call, but that is not the same as siting down together. And some people have no one.

For some of us, when we do gather, there is an empty chair: we remember people who have been part of our lives but are no longer with us. If this is the first year since their loss, the empty place feels raw and painful.

For some people, there is huge contrast between the joy they are supposed to experience and the way they actually feel. The gulf is painful. The darkness unbearable. And because they are supposed to be happy in this holiday season, guilt adds to the burden.

Coloured lights on houses and decorated Christmas trees are beautiful, but sometimes we need a different kind of light.

The story of Jesus' birth includes dazzling light, but there is also the tiny twinkling star. Angels fill the sky with light and song to announce he is born. But there is also a single star in the sky, a tiny pinprick of light. When the shepherds first see the angelic light, they are afraid, although they eventually listen to the message. The star on the other hand draws the interest of people in far off lands, becomes the guide for strangers on their journey.

One of the traditions in United Churches is to light a candle each week for the month before Christmas. The light grows slowly from the single flickering light until there are four candles burning. Then one more to remember the child's birth. A candle does not give off a big light, but even a flickering flame breaks the darkness. And the single light can grow.

Sometimes, the gift of joy or peace begins as a flickering candle light. In the blackest places, light comes through the gifts of gentleness and sacrifice. Wisdom can be offered in the most troubled place. People can live in a way that gives light and love to those around them. And when a candle flares, when the flame warms the hands of others, the darkness is broken.

Love shared, grows. Gentleness received, grows. Light increases like the dawn. A star of hope can become the sun of joy. But until it does, it is still a beautiful star.

One thing about the Christmas story: all we get is a baby. The teaching, the healing comes thirty years later when Jesus grows up. Hopefully, in our lives, the wait is not that long. But the gifts of love or joy or peace do not come all at once. We do not start in the brilliant sunshine.

We do not have to feel guilty when we doubt or hesitate. Light begins as promise, a flickering candle. Nurtured, protected, trusted it can become the bright light that shows the way to a new world.

Cathy Hird is a farmer, minister and writer living near Walters Falls.