In late June 2018, twelve teen members of a local football team biked into the foothills. Exploring the forests and caves after a football practice was their favorite thing to do. They had great fun in one cave especially, sometimes venturing into it some five miles (eight km). There they often performed an initiation rite: scrawling the names of new team members on the cave wall.

The cave system posed dangers: people had gotten lost in it and even died. It was especially dangerous in monsoon season when rains came. But the boys knew the cave system well and safely played there often.

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On this particular day, the team had walked into the cave maybe two and a half miles (four km). They were unaware that while they were there it had started to rain. In fact, it was a heavy, relentless downpour.

The waters inside the cave rose, and the cave flooded. The football team found refuge on a narrow shelf of rock. There they were stranded, trapped.

Their bikes were found outside the mouth of the Tham Luang cave, and families feared the worst. Rescue was not a simple matter: the waters were still rising, their currents strong. The path into the cave was a treacherous labyrinth for divers to navigate. One plan was to pump water out of the cave, but that would be a mammoth operation.

Trapped inside, the boys were in complete darkness. They had flashlights but had to use them sparingly, and as their ordeal continued for days, they ran out of battery power.

What must it have been like to be stranded in darkness—lost, terrified, without hope?


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In many ways, we’re all just like those boys. We live in a dark world. Sometimes our circumstances seem hopeless. Often the darkness is within us, the pitch-black void of our own sin. We try to make our own light for a time, but our energy for positive thinking runs out.

Christmastime, as the world celebrates it, is a hollow show of artificial lights that masks the darkness of the cave all its inhabitants are trapped in. It’s easy to get caught up in the pretense of twinkle, failing to remember what true Christmas really is.

True Christmas starts not with lights on a string but with our personal darkness—the life we sometimes feel lost and trapped in. True Christmas isn’t about glitter and tinsel, but about our realization of how desperately we need to be rescued.


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The football team lived in darkness for what must have felt like many lifetimes.

The attention of the whole world pivoted to the fate of the boys. International assistance was offered, and an elite rescue team was formed. A plan emerged to pump out as much water as possible to allow Navy Seal divers deeper access into the cave before having to go underwater.

This was the emotion-filled setting in which Jesus said, “Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me” (John 14:1).

Then, some nine days after the boys had entered the cave, they saw a light.

A diver’s head bobbed up from the water, his flashlight shining a glow around the boys huddled together, cold but now bearing hopeful faces.

One boy said, “Thank you for rescuing us!”


One night more than two thousand years ago, Christ was born, emerging from the dark waters of our history and shining into the world a glowing circle of hope.

Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life” (John 8:12).

The true meaning of Christmas is about how this Light rescues us from our darkness: “I have seen your salvation, which you have prepared for all people. He is a light to reveal God to the nations, and he is the glory of your people Israel!” (Luke 2:30–32).

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The boys would have to remain in the cave on the rock ledge for days longer before they were actually brought out. And that’s like every one of us who trusts Jesus, isn’t it? Even though we have Christ—true Christmas—in our hearts, we must for a time live our lives in a dark world.

Christmas celebrates the encouragement brought by our Light, Jesus Christ, who guides us as we wait for final deliverance. As the apostle Paul writes, “We were given this hope when we were saved. (If we already have something, we don’t need to hope for it. But if we look forward to something we don’t yet have, we must wait patiently and confidently)” (Romans 8:24–25).

Yes, the true meaning of Christmas starts with the realization of our own darkness. It celebrates the light of Jesus Christ illuminating that darkness. And it becomes the encouragement—the hope of Christ—that we’ll someday be delivered into the light of His presence. Praise God!

At Christmas this year, perhaps we might say in unison with that young Thai football player, “Thank you for rescuing us!”


Ken Petersen, Our Daily Bread author