“It was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness” wrote Charles Dickens in his memorable opening to A Tale of Two Cities. Though meant to illustrate the dichotomy of life in the 18th century, this line has always instead reminded me of Advent. The English teacher in me loves reading this novel with my students in December as the truest and most spiritual “season of light” is upon us. Still, we cannot escape the contrast of darkness as the winter days become shorter, colder, and gloomier with those opportunities for physical light dimming even as the light of Christ’s birth grows within us.
Leaving the house each day at 6:35 a.m., I see little brightness other than the street lights emanating a florescent glow and the harsh beams of cars flying past me. But as I travel up the Merritt Parkway to greet those students who I hope will be as enamored of Dickens as I am, one light illuminates the darkness of each December morning in a way the others cannot. Rounding a curve near the exit to Route 8, I glance to the left and see, perched atop a rocky hill, a miniature Christmas tree, settled among a small grove of pines – a solitary glimmer, an encouraging beacon. I can’t help but smile as it awakens me.
In these darkest mornings, I watch for it as I approach that curve, ready to glimpse it and annoyed at myself on the days that I don’t – like today. Preoccupied by nagging thoughts of my mental to-do list, I missed it. Throughout my ride, I felt the absence of that momentary sight and pondered why it bothered me so. It will be there tomorrow, I reasoned, or will it? How often do we miss a chance to bear witness to those small instances that may bring us great joy? And how often do we take them for granted? Too often.
That tiny tree offers a sense of comfort that little else can at 6:35 am – not the heated seats in my Honda, not the thermos of coffee, or the carols on the Bluetooth. Maybe it’s because it was placed there by an anonymous individual, one looking not for recognition but to simply provide that glimmer, that beacon of the light that we all need to see.
Like the flickering flames of the Advent wreath and the twinkling candles in neighbors’ windows, this little glowing pine tree comes humbly in its unpretentious, unassuming form. Despite the surrounding darkness, be it the approaching winter solstice, personal struggle, or collective strife, one single brilliance has the power to enlighten us, for as John 1:5 writes, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
As we wait for the truest light that is the joy of Christ’s birth, I take personal comfort and joy each morning in the welcoming glow of that miniature tree, remembering that throughout the “season of darkness,” I’ll continue to keep watch as I round the curve toward the “season of light.”