“It was dark as night in the middle of the day,” I heard someone say on the flight home from Berlin a few weeks ago. They weren’t referring to the total eclipse we experienced in our part of the world a few months back nor a terrible thundercloud covered sky preceding a storm. They were simply referring to their experience of an average day in Northeastern Europe in mid-December. As winter approaches, the days get shorter and the nights get longer. Happens every year. Northern Europeans seem to be used to it.
But it can feel pretty strange to a first-timer in Northern Europe during the early days of approaching winter. On our first day in Berlin, the sun was shining as Linda and I walked to the subway (the U Bahn) and down the steps to board the train to pick up our granddaughter at her school on the other side of the city. It was chilly for 2:45, maybe 36°F. But the rareness of the sun at this time of year brought some warmth and energy to the streets as we descended the steps. Thirty minutes later, we stepped off the last train and up the steps and were shocked to find it was totally dark outside. The wind whipped around a sudden iciness. The city lights had come on — overcoats, jackets and mufflers pulled up around collars, and people were rushing more intentionally to brave and escape the sudden chill.
It comes quick, the darkness. And no matter how much you know it’s a reality — the darkness of short, wet cloudy days and long cold wintry nights — it still seems to take you by surprise. By 3:15 “it was dark as night in the middle of the day.” But as we tried to acclimate ourselves to this sudden darkness, I began to appreciate what it must be like for people who live in Northern climates — the challenge to mind and body and soul, and the need for light (be it sunlight or artificial light). I wondered where people found signs of hope and joy when the winter winds and the dark could feel oppressive and overwhelming.
So, we looked for signs of joy and light. And it was interesting where they appeared.
Most often it was the people — the restaurant owners, the small retail shop employees, the smallest acts of someone on the sidewalk watching out for a stranger. It wasn’t spontaneous. For most of the thousands of people on the streets and in the subways, it took some doing. The isolation of darkness and small spaces is overwhelming. It is definitely oppressive at times. But we saw joy open up — one or two people at a time. When one young adult on the train stood up to make room for an elderly person to sit down, a few others took note. When one mother offered another mother’s child a smile and asked curious questions about their school day, several listened in with the same curiosity and hope. When one young man actually took off his parka and gave it to another guy who didn’t seem able to afford one and was clearly caught in the cold. I was reminded of Jesus’ own life in the world, being light in the world.
It is interesting to me where we find signs of joy in times of darkness. The word joy finds its roots in the idea of delight. And its cousin, enjoy, is rooted in the idea of giving delight.
So, yes, the light is coming — though it is yet a ways off. It will get colder before it gets warmer. The darkest, longest night is just past — there will yet be some very dark nights in this fallow season of stillness beyond the New Year.
But it may be helpful to remember this is also a season of invitation to “enjoy” the presence of God incarnate — to participate with God, the very ground of our being and meaning, the very substance of what in the darkness invites light and what in grief invites hope. As ee cummings wrote in response to the cold, dark night of his soul many years ago,
I will take the sun in my mouth
and leap into the ripe air
with closed eyes
to dash against darkness.
Enjoying life, giving joy in life, is clearly a leap of faith and an act of courage. This New Year, I hope for you many leaps of faith in the dark and many moments of joy as we create light together.
Note: As a reminder, we will not meet in eleven:eleven celebration again until January 7. This Sunday, December 31, we will join with all the other services for one single worship celebration at 11:00 am in the Sanctuary. Last week’s single service was beautiful and I know this Sunday’s will be every bit as special with wonderful music, stories, and reflections for the New Year. I hope you will join us!
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
P.S. — I recently received a letter (and an email) from the church inviting me to complete my financial pledge for the year and consider a year-end offering as the church seeks to fulfill its ministries for the year. I am doing that now and hope you will join me if you haven’t already. Thank you!give now