The Shadows that May Be Only

“Before I draw nearer to that stone to which you point,” said Scrooge, “answer me one question. Are these the shadows of the things that Will be, or are they shadows of things that May be, only?”

– A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens

Christmas hope is always rimmed with shadows. Scrooge knew it; an eighth century BC prophet knew it as well:

“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death, a light has dawned.” Isaiah 9:2

The good news (to which both point) is that such shadows can be seen for what they are – dark forebodings meant to help awaken us to a better outcome.  

Shine a Light

“Men’s courses will foreshadow certain ends, to which, if persevered in, they must lead,” said Scrooge. “But if the courses be departed from, the ends will change.”  

Dickens wrote truly, for as the poet Thomas Hardy famously said, “If a way to the Better there be, it exacts a full look at the worst.”

When we eschew an “everything is fine” mentality with our own hearts and begin to own up to our pride and failures in love, we refuse to live “in the shadows.”

It’s not resignation – hopelessly giving in to the cynical, doom and gloom. Rather, it’s a choice to allow ourselves to come into the light — just as a cold stone that lies in the sun can’t help but grow warm.

We may fear this exposure, as Scrooge did, but all we’re left with really is the hopeless path of justifying a myriad of selfish actions.

Yet we need not fear it, for the ultimate end God has for us is joy:

Do not be afraid! For behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people: Today in the city of David a Savior has been born to you. He is Christ the Lord!” Luke 2:10

As the light of Jesus shines through our cracks to a broken world (the only way it ever will) they’ll see both authenticity and hope.

The former is something this world craves; the latter is an irresistible person who comes from outside of us, beyond all our denials and schemes of self-help: “a light has dawned.”

So Merry Christmas! (and as Tiny Tim said, “God bless us, everyone!”)

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An Advent Meditation: A Savior in the Loneliness

It’s a curious thing, loneliness. You can be sitting in a stadium full of people, hundreds of faces to your left and your right, and still be lonely.

Indeed, it’s an awful thing to feel alone. Yet it’s even worse to be alone.

I once read of an elderly man who died alone in his apartment. That was tragic enough, but the most shocking part was that he’d been dead three years before he was found!

Stories like this break our hearts — and they should. Yet Christmas comes, a light in the darkness, to shatter the gloom of aloneness and despair, for the Savior who appears takes the name “Immanuel” — God With Us.

Even after he showed us the extent of his love – in his living, dying, and rising again for us – he promised this before returning to his Father’s side: “Lo, I am with you always.” (Mt. 28:20)

He’s with us through his Spirit that lives within us. And he’s also with us through our brothers and sisters — his new family, the church.

That’s Jesus’ promise to you right now, as you look to him in simple faith.

What about when you don’t feel it? He’s so good that he also gives us words for such times, to express the inexpressible:

‘Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and af­flicted. The troubles of my heart are enlarged; bring me out of my distresses. Consider my affliction and my trouble, and forgive all my sins. Consider how many are my foes, and with what violent hatred they hate me. Oh, guard my soul, and deliver me! Let me not be put to shame, for I take refuge in you.’ (Ps. 25:16–20)

(The following is a timely & comforting Advent meditation from Quina Aragon, originally published at TGC.


“Two Decembers ago, my husband and I celebrated Christmas with Colombian food (his side of the family), Filipino tradi­tions (my side of the family), and the sting of death. Tragedies had cascaded one-by-one throughout that year until our running joke was, “Good morning. What’s our emergency today?” Little did we know, the infamous 2020 was right around the corner.

Through 2020 and 2021 we’ve likely all been touched by the sting of death—the death of family members or friends, the death of dreams, or perhaps the death of community life. If there’s one Bible verse we’ve surely resonated with, it’s this: “I am lonely and afflicted” (v. 16). And loneliness is often heightened during the Christmas season.

Through 2020 and 2021 we’ve likely all been touched by the sting of death.

Loneliness is a form of suffering. But it’s just the sort of thing we tend to shy away from admitting. We might even confuse it for sin itself: How can I feel lonely if God is always with me? I must not be trusting him very well. Of course, loneliness is a byproduct of mankind’s rebellion (Gen. 3), but loneliness itself isn’t sin. And it’s not insignificant to God.

King David prayed God would turn to him with grace in his loneliness. He knew the lack of peace brought on by his own sins and the sins of others against him. He cried, “Con­sider my affliction and my trouble, and forgive all my sins” (v. 18). We know what that feels like. The compounded grief we carry becomes (so we think) license to snap at our loved ones or to escape with the fleeting pleasures of sexual sin. We’re left feeling estranged from God and others, longing for peace.

But David also cried, “Consider how many are my foes, and with what violent hatred they hate me” (v. 19). Essential­ly, “I’ve sinned and I’ve been sinned against. And they both hurt.” They both threaten our experience of peace (whole­ness) with God and others. We’re left fractured.

We’re left feeling estranged from God and others, longing for peace.

But the greater son of David, the Lord Jesus Christ, was coming. His cries would break through a lonely night in Bethlehem as he wriggled in a feeding trough. His cries would break through a lonely night in the Garden of Gethse­mane as he writhed before the prospect of the cross. His cries would break through the midday darkness as he suffered ultimate loneliness—separation from God’s loving presence—when he paid for our sins.

His coming meant the securing of eternal peace between you and God, and you and others—the death of loneliness.


Pray these verses from Psalm 25 back to God, interjecting the particular troubles you face today. Trust that God hears, cares, and draws near to you in your pain.”


Comfort, comfort, O my people,
speak of peace, now says our God.
Comfort those who sit in shadows,
mourning ’neath their sorrows’ load.
Speak unto Jerusalem
of the peace that waits for them.
Tell of all the sins I cover,
and that warfare now is over.

— Johann Olearius (Tr. by Catherine Winkworth), “Comfort, Comfort Ye My People”


An Unexpected Holiday

One of the things you notice about “Old Scrooge” (as opposed to the changed one, post-hauntings) is that he just can’t enjoy a holiday:

“But he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge! a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster.”

And, “It’s enough for a man to understand his own business… mine occupies me constantly.”

The reason, Marley’s ghost tells him, is his invisible chains – forged “link by link and yard by yard” while chasing a golden idol – instead of receiving the true meaning of the season.  

But we all know the outcome: Scrooge gets an “unexpected holiday” to see where it all leads.

What’s the moral? Getting a glimpse of one’s end beforehand is a good thing; it provides a much-needed wake-up call of sorts.

Christmas provides an excellent opportunity to heed that wake-up call – to remember what’s most needful. It might not be a golden idol you’re chasing, but chances are you’re chasing after something. No doubt it’s something that seems good and needful… 

That’s when Marley’s regret might hit you: “Business? Mankind was my business…”

Learning from Past and Future

So when the wake-up call comes, like Scrooge, don’t dismiss it. Allow yourself the time to entertain…

  1. the “ghost” that will show you your past story: 

Was there a time (either recently or years ago) when something brought pain, sorrow, or shame – maybe a relationship break-down or loss – and you began to let your heart grow cold? Examining our past can help us see why we chose certain roads, and what desire/substitute crept in to take control of our heart rather than Christ.  

      2. a visit from the spirit of Christmas future:

Ask yourself, “What will life be like if I continue on this path I’ve chosen? What regrets or failures in love might haunt me?” After all, no will regret at their life’s end that they didn’t engage in more business!


Lest these “visitations” keep you under a cloud of condemnation, there’s good news! Christmas comes to us again, right in the middle of our shame and regret, and doesn’t ask us to first reform ourselves. It’s always a gift.

Are your hands so full of your own plans to fix things that you can’t receive His love? 

Remember the order of things: receive (again) as you first did, and then you will love as you have been first loved. It’s all of grace, throughout our whole story.

This Christmas season, may we reflect on the road we’ve been traveling and pause to receive the Savior’s love. Only then will we heed this best of wake-up calls to show us what’s most important: 

“Business!’ cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again. “Mankind was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence were, all, my business. The deals of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!