Many cultures and traditions celebrate holidays around the winter solstice. They celebrate the return of light in nature and the gaining of personal enlightenment.
In Hindu communities, Diwali celebrates the triumph of good over evil. The awareness of inner light brings higher knowledge that dispels ignorance and brings compassion.
Jewish tradition celebrates Hanukkah in remembrance and rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem at the time of the Maccabean revolt and the miracle of the “container of oil.”
Christians celebrate Christmas as the birthday of Jesus and the coming of the light of hope into a dark world.
For me, the light of Christmas came in a startling and life changing way in 1982. I had returned to school as an adult, single parent with the intention of becoming a United Methodist minister. I had been blessed with a student ministry appointment which allowed me to attend school and pastor a small church.
I had prepared meticulously for my first Christmas in this church, as well as at home. By the time Christmas Eve came, I had shopped carefully for my two children and hidden the gifts in secret places. I had laid out Christmas treats to tempt guests who might drop by throughout the holidays. Most importantly, the Christmas Eve service I had planned for my congregation was unique and sure to invoke the holiness of the season.
At the end of the service, we lit our individual candles and sang Silent Night. Then I greeted the parishioners as they silently left the church. As I walked back into the sanctuary of the church, my heart was heavy. It was nearly over now. I had worked so hard to make Christmas a blessing for everyone, but where was my Christmas blessing?
As I turned up the aisle toward the pulpit to gather my notes, I saw my four year old son laying fast asleep on the steps leading up to the altar. If the lesson of Christmas is that the birth of a child brings love into a hurting world, my blessing was that the birth of my children has taught me the meaning of unconditional love.
Enlightenment came for me that year in the knowledge that Christmas is not about manufacturing happiness, it is about treasuring the happiness one has been given. No matter what you are celebrating this holiday season, I hope you will find the joy that waits for you in your own life.
Norene Ball is the Director of Mission Impact at YWCA McLean County. Her greatest joy, other than raising two perfect kids, is empowering people to be all they were meant to be.