Flashbacks filled my days and nightmares tormented my sleep. As frightening memories of my past were emerging in November 2004, I was also busy working, caring for one child who was in high school and one out of college, and helping in several ministries at church. Trying to hold myself together and somehow stay present to everyday life was an exhausting challenge.
Darkness seemed my constant companion. With Advent approaching, I clung to the Scripture in John 1:5 “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.” I carried these words of hope wherever I went, whispering them under my breath, praying God would sustain me through these days.
During counseling sessions I poured forth memories. My counselor received and held them. But the flashbacks and nightmares weren’t going away. Desperate to find color and meaning when everything seemed dark, I decided it was time to create my own light.
I turned to the story of Jesus’ birth in Luke 1 and 2. As I read, I wondered what Mary was doing when the angel interrupted her and told her she was going to be pregnant with God’s son. Was she making bread, caring for animals, or sewing clothes? I was curious what Joseph thought as an angel came to him in a dream describing Jesus’ impending birth. Was he afraid or puzzled? Or was he astonished that he had a place in the story that would fulfill Scripture written in ages past? Although Mary is often described as a picture of obedience to God’s calling, Joseph too was obedient, awakening from the dream, holding firm with his plans to wed Mary, joining her on the path of divine pregnancy no matter what challenges would come.
In my own life, I pictured God weaving strength and courage deep into my heart. I picked up some strips of fabric and began to weave them one over the other, illustrating what I wanted God to do and what I felt God wanting to do in me. Touching the tan and white strips of smooth muslin and moving each one over and under, over and under, helped me stay present and brought comfort. The strips reminded me of the swaddling cloth used to wrap newborn Jesus. This weaving process created the perfect background for a new piece of art emerging as I meditated on the Christmas story.
I found a piece of common white paper, a pen, watercolors, scissors and thread. On the paper, I used a pencil to draw Mary with long dark braids. I drew small squares as patches of fabric on her clothes, remembering she came from a humble family. In her arms, she holds Jesus wrapped in swaddling cloths.
I pictured Joseph with shorter hair and a beard. He holds a burning candle proclaiming, “Jesus is the light of the world!” The light I was seeking had become flesh.
I pulled out a child’s palette of paints to add color to my pencil sketches. When the watercolor dried, I cut out each figure and object and anchored them to the woven cloth background with a needle and thread.
The star was bright and colorful symbolizing light coming to the world. Recently, when I showed the manger scene to a friend, she said the colors scattered in the straw of the manger looked like birthday confetti, representing the hope and joy Jesus brought into the world that night.
Sixteen years later as I look at my picture of the manger scene, I still sense both the darkness and my need for light. Our small family hasn’t been together since September 2018, when our younger daughter got married. Much-anticipated visits planned over the past year were canceled due to the pandemic. We are simultaneously joyous and heartbroken as we welcomed our first grandchild born in May but we have yet to meet him. He and his parents live in Oregon, a state still in stage one of shutdown with rising COVID cases like most of the United States.
My days volunteering at a local hospital and elementary school, places where I experienced connection and community while I served, are suspended indefinitely.
Others across the country have lost loved ones from the virus. Many forms of loss imposed by this disease, such as unemployment, illness, virtual school, financial difficulties, and strained relationships have turned our routines upside down. It’s a good time for a Savior once again.
Mary and Joseph are models of obedience, listening and responding to God’s desire for their lives. They give us the example of trust in God and commitment to each other. Although neither may have practiced the same “spiritual disciplines” as we know them today, their hearts were open to receiving God’s word, whether from an angel or in a dream.
Mary and Joseph experienced darkness in their lives too. An unexpected and unusual pregnancy before marriage surely brought disruption to their days. Explaining their circumstances to family and relatives – “A baby, from God? How can this be?” surely created confusion and disbelief in those who loved them.
This young couple offers light in their willingness to follow God’s leading despite what others may have said. Their example in fulfilling God’s story written by the prophets and carried through in their actions gives us encouragement for our days when we have uncertainty and doubt.
Take a moment and consider what difficulties the corona virus has brought to you. Make a list. Sometimes writing struggles on paper is a way to release what is held in your heart.
Now, how can you create your own light?
First, light a candle to remind you, God is here, God is with me.
Make a collage. I find art an easy way to open my heart when I am troubled. Gather a few catalogues or magazines, scissors, a glue stick and paper. Look at pictures or words on these pages. What attracts your attention? What feelings surface as you work? What thoughts or memories come as you leaf through the pages? Arrange what you found and glue to the paper.
When you finish, step away for an hour or two. When you return, reflect on your collage. Write a few sentences describing the thoughts, memories or longings you see in what you chose. What key words or themes come as you write? Name your collage and write the date on the back of the paper. Put the collage in a place you can see throughout Advent.
I am thankful for the Advent drawing I created years ago. I am amazed at how relevant the picture is today, still speaking to me of God’s hope and light in a dark time.
Prayer: God, these times of health and safety concerns can create anxiety and unease. Let the hope of Advent come through strongly so we can see the faith and trust Mary and Joseph placed in you when they received unexpected news. Let us too, follow them on our own way to Bethlehem, and settle in the light brought forth in Jesus. Create in us new light moment by moment so in these unusual times we may not feel distanced from you, but close in heart. We depend on your strength and companionship at all times. Let your presence be our light each day. Amen.