The following sermon was preached at the annual Christmas Memorial Service for St. John’s Columbarium on November 28, 2007. The service took place at St. John’s Cathedral in Saskatoon, SK.
I have a vivid memory of a school trip to the Maritimes when I was nine years old. We were visiting a small town in Acadia, and we were billeted with local families. The room I slept in those few nights was in the basement of my billet’s home. It had a small window, but being on the edge of town there wasn’t much light outside to come in through the window at night.
In the middle of the first night, I woke up because I needed to go to the bathroom. The room was so dark that I couldn’t see my own hand in front of my face, and it took me a moment to remember where I was — that I wasn’t at home in my own bed. Once I realized where I was, I also realized that finding my way to the bathroom was not going to be easy. But I couldn’t wait till morning, so I got up and started feeling my way towards where I thought I’d find the light switch. I found a wall. I found a corner. But I didn’t find a switch. Frantically, I started searching for the door. Where was it? I was starting to feel trapped. I strained my eyes, opening them as wide as I could, but all I could see was blackness. Where was the door? Where was the light? I was stumbling over furniture now, and feeling more and more scared and embarassed and desperate.
And then, all of a sudden, I heard a click, and a glimmer of light appeared under the door that I hadn’t been able to find in the dark. My bumping around had woken someone up, and they had come to my rescue. I was completely on the wrong side of the room. I was flailing in the dark in the wrong direction. But suddenly, just a tiny glimmer of light had shown me the way to go, and I was going to be alright.
For many of you who have lost important people whom you loved and relied on, you may have felt something like I did as a scared child in a dark room far away from home. Even if your surroundings have not changed, everything may seem different now without that special person in your life. At times, it may be hard to navigate your way through some of the simplest tasks of daily living. Things that you hardly thought about in the past may become great challenges now, and you fear that you won’t be able to manage without some kind of help.
Christmastime can often be one of the most difficult times for those who are grieving. Partly, it’s all the happy frivolity of the season. It’s hard to join in that when you’re feeling sad. It’s hard to enjoy the festivities when so many of the events and traditions bring to mind the loved one with whom you once shared them. In the midst of Christmas concerts and plays, family dinners and get-togethers with friends, I wonder if you sometimes find yourself putting on a happy face for the sake of the people around you. Do you find yourself pretending so as not to upset anyone else or to put a damper on their celebrations?
If so, the words of the psalmist can be for you a reminder that even when no one else knows or understands the pain and sorrow you feel, there is one who does. There is one who knows and understands and cares, and that one is God.
“O Lord, you have searched me and known me.
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from far away.
You search out my path and my lying down,
and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
O Lord, you know it completely.”
When you struggle in the dark of your sorrow and loss, no matter how lost you may become, there is one who never leaves you. The psalmist writes:
“Where can I go from your spirit?
Or where can I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
If I take the wings of the morning
and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me fast.”
More than twenty years later, I still remember the utter darkness of that room as I struggled to find a light. But I think my problem was not only the darkness. It was the fact that I didn’t know my surroundings. I didn’t know where to reach to find the light switch. If only I had had someone with me who knew the way, who’d been there before — someone for whom the darkness would not have been as overwhelming as it was for me that night.
I think that Christmas is a good time for us to gather as a community of people who have experienced great loss. As the days grow shorter and darkness becomes a greater reality in our lives, we need to not only remember our loved ones. We need to draw strength from each other to journey through this time that can be so difficult. Though our particular wounds are unique, we can look around the church tonight and see that there are many others who have been on this journey through the darkness as well. Perhaps we can be a help to one another as we seek to find our way through.
Christmas these days, has become a time of gift-giving and receiving, of family get-togethers, decorations, and food. We are reminded of our loved ones so much at Christmas because Christmas has come to equal “family.” That’s why I usually have a short cry on Christmas Day, because my family is so far away and I miss them so much more on the day they’re all together without me two provinces away.
But that’s when I have to remind myself that Christmas is not about family. Just as Christmas is not about Santa Claus or decorated trees, or buying lots of stuff at the mall that we don’t really need. Christmas is about one good and perfect gift that God gave to the world 2000 years ago. And that gift was the gift of light. God sent light to shine into the darkness of the world — a light so strong and clear that the darkness could not overcome it.
God didn’t give us a gift just for fun, or to encourage us to have parties and eat too much and buy lots of stuff for each other. No, God sent us the gift of Jesus Christ because we were people who were struggling in the darkness. God sent the gift of Jesus, the light of the world, because without the light we just couldn’t find our way.
In the gift of Jesus, the light, God reveals God’s very presence with us through all of the challenges of our human lives. God reminds us that we are children of God, made in God’s image, loved and cherished by our Creator. God shows us how to live with purpose — loving one another as Jesus loved us. And God encourages us that when this earthly life is over, there is still hope for us. There is a place prepared for us with God, and in Jesus Christ, we will find the way.
There are times in our lives, and perhaps especially at Christmas, when like the psalmist, we will say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light around me become night.” It is those times in which we must hold on to the hope that he had when he wrote, “even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you.” Our God is with us. Our God is coming to us. We are not alone as we move through this time of darkness.
The prophet Isaiah wrote:
“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness — on them light has shined…
For a child has been born for us,
a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
and he is named
Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
This Christmas, may you experience the Light of Christ in your life. May God be with you, to help you on your way, and to give you the hope, peace, joy, and love of the season. Amen.