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.
God continues to bless you with His word. This is the best of all your posts that I have read. God does bring us out of the darkness into His holy light and for that we must all be thankful. Not only thankful but brought to our knees with awe.
May God continue to bless you and your children – Bill’s final gift to all of us who knew him.
Thank you, Jane. Karl and Else are true gifts, in every way, and one sees Bill’s perseverance and mischief in each, in different measures, depending on the moment!
Ah, lighten our darkness, even and especially amidst the dank, hollowness of death’s door, searching for despair no more, winter is still in store but spring is coming warm us to the core. But frigid ice has to come first for the open grave to burst with first with light.
Thank you for ‘Christmas mourning,’ a phrase that rings true every day of my life.
I agree with Jane. The best, the truest. From one pastor who sees a lot of darkness to another. Carry the light. be an ambassador of light.
Your blog made me look up the full text on rooms, darkness and light. It comes from Gerhard Frost, “Seasons of a Lifetime” and is called “Grounds for Hope.” It goes like this:
“The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness has not overcome it.”
If I am asked
what are my bounds for hope,
this is my answer:
Light is lord over darkness,
truth is lord over falsehood,
life is ever lord over death.
Of all the facts I daily live with,
there’s none more comforting
than this: If I have two rooms,
one dark, the other light,
and I open the door between them,
the dark room becomes lighter
without the light one
becoming darker. I know
this is no headline,
but it’s a marvelous footnote;
and God comforts me in that.
Gerhard had a lot of fine pieces. This is one of them.
Thanks, Dad. Truth be told, I didn’t remember at all the Gerhard Frost connection, so I’m glad that you did! Grounds for hope indeed.
Light does overtake the darkness, in time, every time. We are all called to be an ambassador of that light, kindness, and reconciliation, but you, Ms. Madsen, are awesome at it.
Thank God for angels among us.
You put me in a pickle, about whether to approve your comment, with such over-the-top words. I did only because you are right about the light, the calling, and the angels among us. Thanks for that.