We have entered the two darkest weeks of the year. By the time you read this, it will be less than a week before the days start to lengthen again, though the change will still be imperceptible. In this season of short days and long nights, it’s understandable that we deck our houses with lights: a compensation to ourselves, a note of consolation to our neighbors. It’s saying the darkness shall not win; we will overcome it. Have hope. Hang on.
I think it’s natural that we humans are afraid of the dark. Seeing is our strongest sense, and darkness limits our ability to make use of it. Light, whether from candles or the candlepower of electricity, gives us back some ability to defend ourselves. With light, we are in the stable with Mary and Joseph, so to speak, not out in the fields guarding sheep with only starlight to give shape to features in the landscape, the horizon’s location.
Perhaps that’s why I love the shepherd part of the story, the birth of hope story, the message Christians believe God sent to his people. God even sent that message to people not considered His, if we understand correctly who the Magi were. I think the Magi were as much God’s people as the shepherds, though, and yes, dammit, even Herod the Jew, Caesar Augustus and the Roman occupying forces. Some Christians want to exclude others from the “God’s people” category, but I think that’s theologically incorrect.
Back to the shepherds. There they are in the dark, tending their sheep. They’re like us, most of us, tending our lives and families, going to work every day to keep the lights on, coming home at night to tend our own business and rest. The shepherds who get to hear the angels first are working the night shift, and if you’ve ever worked night shift, you know there’s something holy as well as scary about being the ones awake while everyone else is sleeping. It gives you a chance to watch the night sky and to wonder.
And then, out of the deep dark blue, here come some angels, answering the wonderings “Is there anything out there? Is there anything else besides this life?” I think we all hope there is, but when the answer comes, who would not be afraid? Who would not be afraid of the massive change implied by a new king, a “king” who is going to undermine the very definition of “king”? This king, this Message, is not going to change the conditions of your life so much as change the way you think about it, not going to change your occupation so much as your status. This new kingdom is going to allow you to think of yourself as a child of God instead of a minion and a cog in other peoples’ wheels, or even King. If you let it.
And here we are 2,020 years past the angels’ announcement. Many of us are afraid in this dark night of the pandemic and social upheaval, of intentionally created chaos threatening the warp of America’s fabric. The South started the Civil War by firing on Fort Sumter; the same spirit is currently throbbing in Washington, D.C. and other parts of the country. The virus rages through our residents like the fires of last summer and fall raged through our drought-damaged forests, past control. With the vaccine we hope to save some of our old-growth people and the front-line fighters who keep the flames from our homes. But the COVID wind is blowing where it will, and we can’t do much more than let it burn itself out. There is reason to fear.
But “fear not” is the message of Christmas. Perhaps this year, with less festivities and people around, we’ll be somewhere we can hear the angels’ voices come through the night. Perhaps instead of gathered around the candlelit table, secure, we’ll be tempted to step out into the dark, check on the sheep, and be blessed by the only security there really is.
Trudy Wischemann is a neophyte shepherdess who writes from a manger in Lindsay. You can send her your angel sightings c/o P.O. Box 1374, Lindsay CA 93247 or visit www.trudysnotesfromhome.blogspot.com and leave a comment there. This column is not a news article but the opinion of the writer and does not reflect the views of The Sun-Gazette newspaper.