Yesterday was a weird day.
It began with an emotional toddler who would not be pacified no matter what I tried. Stupidly, I took him to Michael’s to “quickly” exchange an item. And thus my nightmare began.
Apparently, my son didn’t want to go to Michael’s–he wanted to stay in the car, or go somewhere else, or who on earth really knows??–so I had to force him out. Then, I used my right hand to drag him through the parking lot. In my left hand was the broken glass of a picture frame I was returning.
For the life of me I don’t know why I decided to combine an irrational toddler with broken glass and a public audience. But I did.
My son’s tantrum lasted the entire length of the trip, although its intensity came in waves. One minute he was content to look at a toy on the shelf, the next he was sobbing because I wouldn’t let him have gum. And as luck would have it, the checkout line stretched on for eternity, which is about how long the tantrum felt.
But here’s the thing–when I FINALLY I left the store, my heart was soaring. I could have danced that snotty-nosed, weepy child all the way to the car, because his tantrum wasn’t the only thing that had happened in the store. Although my son had been a living nightmare, the other customers had been a dream. Before I even made it into the store, one woman offered to carry the glass for me. She escorted me to the customer service counter and stayed with me until I was settled. Later, as I waited in line to check out, the women ahead of me saw my distress and let me skip to the front.
Good Samaritan after good Samaritan came to my aid and made the experience just a little bit easier. It was amazing.
That’s why, when I left the store, my mind was not on the screaming child in my arms, but on the many women who saw me and cared for me. Although their kindnesses were relatively small, they were big to me.
In my darkness, their pinpricks of light shone like a brilliant sun.
Later that day came the news of the Eric Garner case. In a blatant miscarriage of justice, a grand jury chose not to indict the officer who killed Garner. On the heels of Ferguson, the news felt like a punch in the stomach, and I listened as countless other Americans voiced their own anger and despair. Once again, grief and numbness descended upon our broken nation.
But then, I noticed something. Something new. I watched my Facebook and Twitter feeds as friends and acquaintances who had been silent during Ferguson began to speak up. Could it be that their eyes were starting to open? Were their ears beginning to hear?
For some, apathy was giving way to righteous anger and compassion. Lukewarm hearts were growing hot with love and rage.
Maybe, just maybe, the Holy Spirit was at work.
Now don’t get me wrong–nothing revolutionary has happened. Not yet. Our collective anger over Eric Garner’s murder could all fade away into the busyness of the Christmas season, just a blip on the historical radar. Nothing may come of it.
Yet I couldn’t help but feel hopeful last night as I went to bed. Maybe something is happening. Maybe God is on the move in this. Maybe this is the darkest hour of the night, just before it breaks into the day.
Maybe those little acts of listening and speaking up were the very first pinpricks of light, shining into this terrible darkness.
It’s Advent, a time when we remember another light that pierced the darkness…although we don’t always remember it that way. Jesus’ birth narratives usually conjure images of a manger, or a silent night, but if you read the account in Matthew, the story is anything but sweet. The context is one of chaos and fear. Herod tries to exterminate all the male children in Bethlehem, so Mary and Joseph flee.
The image of a serene mother and child is nowhere to be found. There is only terror and death.
That is how we meet Jesus. A tiny, helpless, vulnerable child in a world of conflict. It’s impossible to see how such a small, powerless person could change such a world.
But he did. And it all began with a pinprick of light.
The world we live in is a broken place, and sometimes that brokenness can feel overwhelming. In fact, that hopelessness can lead us to disengage, or even hide behind the gospel, rather than live it.
But here’s the thing–it doesn’t take much light to shine in the darkness. For me, it only took a woman offering to help me in a parking lot, or the first signs of listening among previously unhearing ears. That’s because light shines brightest wherever the darkness is blackest. Even the smallest amount.
So that’s all I’m asking of you. Nothing huge. Nothing overwhelming. Nothing too much. As you continue on with Advent and remember the in-breaking light of God’s son, find a way to be a pinprick of light in this present darkness. Care for a stranger. Listen to someone who is different than you. Pray that God would open your heart and renew your mind. Start small, but start somewhere. Because God has a way of turning the tiniest, dimmest lights into stars that shine like the sun.
Today, where can you shine?
But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn,
which shines brighter and brighter until full day.