The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light… for to us a child is born, to us a son is given…
Dear friends and family,
This is the first year in a very long time that the overwhelming apparatus of Christmas has not swallowed me whole. Somehow the greater story has managed to weave itself in among the many revolving pieces and make of itself something more precious than the sum of its parts. The privilege of church is that we share in real life with real people. This Advent we have been to funerals and hospital rooms, listened to people struggling in relationships, handed out gifts to street kids, wept over losses and said difficult goodbyes. This Advent we have also rejoiced over births and baptisms, seen families born through adoption, enjoyed special gatherings, and shared good news. In and among these real life events, this Advent we have also celebrated Christmas, with parties and music and gifts and – especially in the Philippines – a host of silly games. In spite of these many moveable parts, the child born unto us provides a steady, unwavering light. No matter whether the day’s news has been good or bad, we gather around the table each night and light our candles to proclaim it.
It has been helpful, in integrating the whole, that our church has been looking at the prophecies in Isaiah that herald the savior, a child. Isaiah’s prophecy is told amidst the threat of war, to a king with a propensity toward sorcery and human sacrifice. It declares hope into not just a dark situation but to a human heart so darkened by idolatry that it does not even desire the rescue proffered. Just there, in the midst of a very real darkness, Isaiah paints vivid pictures of light and hope. This is a prophecy told in the midst of a desperate situation, hope for the hopeless.
We celebrate Christmas in the darkest season. While we string lights on our trees and light candles in our homes, the surrounding palate is dark. The beauty of the message is not that all is merry and bright, as the Christmas songs say, but that there is hope in the darkness worth waiting for. Along with Isaiah, we proclaim, “I will wait for the Lord, who is hiding His face from the house of Jacob.” Our hope is in the child, despite the darkness that surrounds.
Our year, like every year before it, has been that mixture of darkness and light. As most of you know, our middle son, Jude, was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes this year. We are now a family familiar with frequent injections, constant calculations and regular doctor’s visits, glucose monitors and middle-of-the-night check-ins. This has been our greatest challenge of 2014. We remain, however, grateful for the many blessings. Our church celebrated its hundred-year anniversary with great heart and fanfare. There were visits from former senior pastors, incredible seminars, beautiful music productions, fun fundraisers and most importantly, a centennial flagship project for the victims of last year’s typhoon Yolanda that surpassed our wildest dreams. Steve worked heroically to balance the ongoing demands of the church with the many additional activities of the centennial, spearheading a much anticipated, yearlong celebration of God’s faithfulness to our community. I couldn’t be prouder of him. I began working with the church as the director of our small group ministry and have greatly enjoyed working more closely alongside Steve serving our wonderful community. The boys continue to thrive in school and at home. We were bracing ourselves for the teenage years, but have so far found ourselves off to a gentle start. (Thank you, Aidan!) Aidan continues to be a calm and thoughtful presence, rarely parted from his beloved kindle, unless it is to try his hand at theater for the first time, with a solo to boot. Jude managed his first year of middle school while also achieving nearly full independence with his diabetes at the ripe old age of eleven. We are immeasurably proud of the maturity and equanimity with which he manages this latest challenge in his young life. Zephyr continues to be a source of laughter and joy to the entire family. At age 6, he delights us all with a playful sense of humor, an unflagging enthusiasm for life, and a loving heart. We are grateful every day for the love that binds us up and quite literally holds us together.
When you enter our village there is a long, broad avenue with old and mighty trees on either side, bending to form a gentle canopy above. At night their long, unbroken procession forms a dark tunnel above the road, blocking out the sky. This season, however, the trees are hung with white stars (Philippine Christmas lanterns, or parols), creating a magical interplay of darkness and light. Driving through, one is literally surrounded, block after block, by radiantly lit stars against the darkness of obscured branches and leaves. This gorgeous interplay between shadow and light never ceases to fill me with wonder.
We pray that in the midst of whatever combination of darkness and light you find yourself this year, hope lights your way.
Michelle, with Steve, Aidan (13), Jude (11), and Zephyr (6)