IMG_6227Our backyard trees are mostly bare. Each morning, my husband, Dana, or I rise in the early morning dark to light a fire in the wood stove to brighten the living room and coax the temperature above sixty. And our kids are already counting down the weeks until Christmas, never mind Thanksgiving, which seems to serve like a speed bump in the modern rush toward holiday spending.

From the time they were little, we’ve tried to keep gift giving simple – items picked up at community craft fairs, or hammered together in the dank secrecy of the basement ,or lovingly stitched (and picked) and re-stitched at the dining room table. Winter necessities like boots and jackets and basketball shoes. Something to read and something fun for the whole family.

The older I get, the more simply I want to celebrate the season, first by recounting God’s goodness over the past year, and then by giving gifts to remember that Greatest Gift, the Light of the World entering our darkness.This year there’s been a lot of darkness. Someone I dearly love was diagnosed with cancer. The news is filled with dire headlines. And many families – including ours – are struggling.

But unlike our fondness for Santa Clause we don’t base our affection for God on whether he delivers everything on our list. God’s generosity is not based on who has been naughty or nice. Neither is hardship or sickness a supernatural lump of coal signaling that someone has done something wrong.

When Christ’s followers wanted to know why a certain man had been born blind – was it his sin or his parents? – Jesus said, “It was that the works of God might be displayed in him,” John 9:2.

In other words, it was to make room for the miraculous. Then Christ restored the man’s sight. Darkness pushed back, light revealed.

Perhaps what we need most, during a season of darkness, is to have our sight restored. To have our eyes opened to the daily goodness of God.In the weeks before Thanksgiving, when our oldest kids were little, we sometimes gathered sticks from the back yard and set them in a vase on the dining room table. Then we’d cut slips of bright paper into the shape of leaves and string them with bits of yarn to hang from the branches. On each, we wrote something we were thankful for as a visible reminder of God’s goodness.

For isn’t that was these holidays –these Holy Days – are all about? Not eating too much and spending too much and lavishing ourselves with gifts, but on lavishing the Gift Giver with thanks in gratitude for the One without whom all of life would be endless darkness.

This morning, my 1-year-old son awoke before dawn. In the dim shadows, he pointed to the switch on the wall.

“What’s that? What do you see?” I asked, flicking the switch. Just like that, the room brightened.

Gratitude works the same way. Flip the switch, and the light comes on.