by Louise Westfall
So this is Christmas…2020.
It was only a year ago, but feels at least a decade longer than that, when I was anticipating the fun we could have with a year that indicated perfect vision. 2020…no corrective lenses needed.
Well. See how well that worked out. We have spent nine full months in the darkness of pandemic. Almost everything we’ve known, believed, practiced, and celebrated has been upended. The losses through death are staggering. But every one of us has experienced loss through the necessary social distancing to keep the community safe and healthy. We can’t gather with family and friends not in our immediate household. We can’t worship in person. We miss hugging and eating together and sharing life’s important moments with others. We have felt guilty about complaining at all, when we remember the medical people and essential workers on the coronavirus front line.
But there it is. We’ve tried to make it better. In fact, I read that there has been such a demand for Christmas trees this year, there is actually a shortage! And delivery services report delivering ten packages for every man, woman, and child in the US.
A Facebook meme that resonated with me graces the cover of tonight’s bulletin. A peaceful, woodcut manger scene. Oh, but look again: it’s two T-Rexes fighting over a table saw. [Now I know you’re not going to hear the next sentence until you’ve taken a good look: go ahead!] Everything looks different in the dark. And in this season when we in the northern hemisphere have the longest days of darkness, reality seems distorted and messed up. Nothing is quite the way it was and we can’t make it right with our decorations, endless online shopping, or eggnog. No wonder the most frequent greeting I’ve received this year pines for “a little more light.”
Before we catch a glimpse of the Bethlehem star, however, I invite us to take a deeper look into the darkness, because it holds insight too. Seeing in the dark requires a different way of perceiving but can yield startling truths. The immensity of space flung with stars and galaxies is best experienced in the dark. The flower bulbs we planted in the ground last fall lie waiting, unseen; unimaginable human development takes place quietly in the darkness of a womb. Even what you’re doing right now: sitting quietly in a room illumined only by shadowy firelight can produce deep levels of calm. And hey, if you happen to drift off, that’s okay too!–may your dreams be more nourishing than sugar plums. My friend who is a chaplain at a nursing home has discovered a hard-won truth as he serves among people near the end of their lives. In isolation, some find clarification of essential values; deeper appreciation for everyday goodness; and greater trust in foundational purpose beyond human control. Eric acknowledges that darkness can be fearsome, but it can also be a place of generativity and transformation [The Rev. Eric Massanari, The Inexorable Darkness: A Reflection for this Season of Longest Nights, Mennonite Church USA, December 3, 2020].
When our hearts are broken and our spirits groan in weariness, and we can't talk or think our way out of despairing realities, the Divine slips in.
Friends, the darkness is where God shows up.
When our hearts are broken and our spirits groan in weariness, and we can’t talk or think our way out of despairing realities, the Divine slips in. But that’s not quite right. God was here all along, but we couldn’t see. The pandemic did not cause the terrible hurts of this year; it revealed them. It asked us to practice night vision, to see in the long nights the contours of a deeper and truer reality. God has always been here, patiently working to right wrongs, reconcile estranged and angry people, lift up the discouraged and wake up the complacent. Look! There’s God: in the face of an emergency room nurse offering care and solace to a frightened patient. There’s God: speaking truth born of four hundred years of racial injustice and white supremacy. There’s God: unloading boxes of food; serving hungry people and sitting down to eat with them. There’s God: in the laughter of children; in the voice on the phone saying she called just to check in. There’s God, in the vulnerability of a newborn baby. The light of the world has arrived. Again. Always.
Starting last week, the Internet came alive with photos of the first recipients of a coronavirus vaccine. The jubilant look on the faces of medical personnel and elderly folks signaled the light at the end of a long tunnel. There’s God, offering hope to an exhausted, fearful world.
May we learn to see in the darkness the Divine light that is never extinguished. May it spark fresh visions of thriving lives and communities. May it heal old wounds and sharp divisions; bring down walls and build bigger tables. May it sharpen our vision to clarify what we’re actually seeing: sometimes to recognize amid the clash of tyrannical titans, the things that make for peace; and sometimes to expose false peace and security in order to address greater dangers.
May the light illumine paths toward different ways of living together, of sharing wealth, and taking better care of the one earth home we have.
Here and now, in the darkness, let light shine. Christ light. Your light. And together, reveal the dawning of a new day. May it be so.