“I believe that men are generally still a little afraid of the dark, though the witches are all hung, and Christianity and candles have been introduced.” Henry David Thoreau, Walden
If Henry were still alive, I would tell him that I couldn’t agree more. Wouldn’t he be amazed to see, in fact, just how “not dark” our world is with the advent of electricity? But still, men (and even some women that I know) are “still a little afraid of the dark.”
The longer I live the better I understand that what many of us fear is not the literal darkness of the absence of a light to light our way. If Thoreau were pointing at “superstition” when he brought up the “witches,” I sometimes wish that I could fear the darkness of things that might not actually exist – things about which many folk are “superstitious,” (like I did when I was a little boy going out to get the mail in the mailbox that was only about 100 feet from the front door, but when I turned my back to whatever was out there in the dark behind me it seemed like a quarter mile that I had to scamper to get in the safe of the light of my home), instead of being afraid of the dark – the real dark – that seems to be inhering my world right now.
I was going to preach about “light” and “dark” today, on this Winter Solstice, the shortest daylight day of the year. I was already surprised at how much national and global “darkness” I could remind us had occurred in the past four weeks of Advent: two grand jury decisions (and all that transpired because of that), the fears of retaliation by terrorist organizations for the revelation of interrogation practices in the post 9/11 climate in which we live, the threat by North Korea to bomb movie theaters (on Christmas day no less), and 141 children in Pakistan being killed. It just seemed to be “enough” darkness. And then I awoke and read the news that yesterday afternoon two New York City police officers were murdered in their patrol car – most likely as vengeance for the non-indictment of the aforementioned grand jury decisions. Will we ever end the violence and retribution and retaliation?
When I got to my church early this morning, I walked into the sanctuary to be sure everything was in place for worship. There was a small shaft of sunlight coming through an eastern window and striking a small evergreen tree placed behind our altar as a decoration. It was decorated with blue and silver ribbons and glass balls (in keeping with the liturgical color of “blue” for the season of Advent). I did a double take when I saw little points of light on the wall behind our altar. At first I thought I was seeing stars that someone might have painted on the wall, but then realized it was light reflected off the small mirror ball glass decorations on the tree.
As I pondered the darkness of the news and the world that I am living in, it was as if God said: “Pastor….be alert! Keep awake! Look for the light,” and I couldn’t help but think of the words from the Gospel of John that I will say in the darkness of the Christmas Eve candlelight service, three days from now, to people who have gathered for worship and to celebrate the coming of the Christ as a newborn baby into the darkness of our world. I will only see in their faces what the glow of the candle they are holding in front of them reveals as I read:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. (John 1:1-5, 14 NRSV)
On this darkest day of the year, and six months from now – on the brightest day of the year – we can always know that the Light has come. Not just to the good people, or the people who deserve it, or the people who come to church on other days besides Christmas and Easter. It is the light of all people.
The light is for you and me and even the people who cause the darkness that we live in.
That’s what makes it “grace.”