Christmas Morning, Christmas Mourning
Today we awoke to a Christmas Day for the picture books.
We are in Anchorage, Alaska, and the trees are covered with inches of fresh snow from the night skies. The mountains behind my sister’s house are straining to be seen, but we know that they are lurking behind the clouds. I’m not sure whether the clouds are purple because of thick moisture, or because they are actually very thin, and the purple hue is actually hinting of the dark mountain bulk.
We are just a shave beyond the winter’s solstice, so Alaskans are on the upswing toward light, minute by minute. Even so, we still don’t see the full sun until 10-ish, and must wave it goodbye at close to sometime around 3:00, give or take.
For this reason, lights adorn houses and trees here, not only in honor of Christmas, but in honor of light.
It’s awfully beautiful.
Once I heard a truism: that if you have a room filled with light, and a room filled with dark, separated only by a door, when the door opens darkness does not enter the light, but light enters the darkness.
Here, in more ways than one, we are surrounded by light. We feasted on grilled fresh oysters, king crab, greens with pomegranates, freshly baked bread, and pavlova and rum pudding for dessert. This morning we opened a bounty of presents, and savored a breakfast that was made with all hands, big and little, helping in the kitchen and at the table.
That said, I am keenly aware that there is darkness.
So the truism isn’t quite true.
I know of sadness, brokenness, anxiety, loss, and regret in my life and others.
And this year, death has made itself known of late in the lives of those whom I know and love, apparently paying no heed to the season.
So it has knocked on doors anticipating opening up to the Christ child, and not to the grave.
The families have no choice but to let death in and then let death go, leaving with their loved ones, leaving the living standing in the doorway, dumbfounded and disconsolate in the darkness.
Dan Swets, Augustana College professor, died in a tragic, fiery charter plane crash a week ago Friday. I married him and his bride Robyn three years ago, and not even a month back, they celebrated their son’s first birthday. He has three older, extraordinary children.
Dick English died, also an Augie professor, just weeks into his retirement. Our first Christmas in Sioux Falls, also under grim circumstances, was made brighter by him and his wife who mischievously left gifts from a Christmas Spirit on our doorstep in the days leading up to Christmas Eve.
I never knew Connie Skovlund, although she went to High School with my father. She birthed one of my five closest friends, a woman who has made my life immeasurably better.
Not more than a couple of months ago, Paul Freese also died. He owned a bar in the town I served as pastor, along with his wife Eileen. Before we flew back to the States from Germany with so-injured little boy Karl and so-tiny baby girl Else, Paul sent me an email saying, “Be sure and let us know when you are flying through the skies so we can stop praying. We don’t want anything to get in the way of the plane bringing you home!”
They are all buried, now, dust returned to dust, cold bodies taken back into cold winter earth.
And the families are left in darkness.
Unless we recall the darkness, the light seems not brilliant but mocking, even artificial.
That’s the tension that Christmas offers. Jesus, human and divine, coming into the mess of life, promising light, and water, and life to a world of darkness, and parched lives, and death.
Last night, during our Christmas service, there were several babies crying, mostly of the infant variety.
When, however, the lights dimmed and the candles for Silent Night were lit, then there was modified silence: cooing, perhaps, and astonished eyes that followed the flames, but generally, there was no more weeping.
The light from others calmed those who were sad.
On this Christmas morning, I remember those who are Christmas mourning, and I pray that I may be an ambassador of the light. I pray that the promise of God incarnate be seen in incarnate acts of kindness, of mercy, of justice, of righteous anger, of righteous reconciliation, of comfort, and of the news that it is dark, but the light is breaking in, and will, in the end, overcome, act by act.
Merry Christmas. May his light overcome your darkness in this season and all.