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The timbered great door stands ajar. Silence infiltrates the light brilliancing the hardwood floor with its intrusion into darkness: So unexpected, so frightening, an irritant to eyes accustomed to living within the grip of shadows.

No one seems around.

The urge to explore this new realm discomforts. A response is called for, despite peppering fears similar to nail guns securing tiles to tar-papered roofs—It’s safer to remain with the familiar, however outworn. That’s what everyone says. Yet, the light persists, the light beckons, the light warms.

How many times have I stood upon such a threshold? Let go of opportunities for growth? Settled for less rather than embracing the necessary sacrifice to forge ahead? For too many years have I chosen the half-light, but no more. My senior years are thinning, and my friends are diminishing through death and disease. Even my energies are like spend-saver salt.

The paradox of this diminishment opens me even more to the teaching of Jesus of Nazareth. He is the open door to Light’s abundance. “Anyone who enters through me will be safe.” (John 10:9) This, alone, satisfies, even now.

 

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It is New Year’s Eve.

Womb-like stillness exudes peace as I head outdoors. My flashlight plays in front of my steps, revealing shriveled leaves and twigs and gumballs on the sidewalk. Halogen streetlights impress limpid pools of yellow upon this dark world. Christmas lights hug tree trunks and drape specter branches. Wreathes with blinking lights adorn front doors. A spotlight casts a larger-than-life outline of a crèche onto a plank fence that heralds this centuries-old event. I smile. From somewhere, fumes from a log fire permeate the air.

As moist breezes freshen my cheeks, I move up the hill toward another oasis of yellow; within it, a jumble of cars crowds several driveways, and further on, a battered pick-up. From a bay window shimmers a tinseled tree. And in the next a block a drooping Scotch pine sits tilted upon a front lawn, awaiting removal by the yard waste collection.

I pause. What is it about darkness that prompts us to fill it with light? Does darkness not have its own richness, its own texture, its lessons—both material and spiritual?

Against such a field of darkness the crescent moon waxes tonight, and I’m moved by the text from Isaiah, 45: 7: “I form the light and create the darkness…” Both have value if we seek it.

 

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“… Jesus, Lord, at thy birth.” The last strains soar to the rafters of this darkened church as we snuff out our candles and blink beneath the illumination of the overhead fixtures. The service is over. Once again the story inflames our hearts.

No matter that everything around us feels worn: the electric fans mounted on the dusky pink walls of this cruciform church; the cherry-red velour used in the drape behind the Italian marble altar, the upholstered presider’s chair, and the carpet in the sanctuary; the used poinsettias affixed at intervals along the wrought-iron communion rail; the languishing figures in the crib set; the carved receptacles mounted upon the backs of the pews that once held hymnals; the aging worshipers, about forty in number, in a church that used to hold hundreds; the hickory floorboards smoothed by decades of worshipers since 1894.

No matter that the city’s pollution besmirch the once white stones of this German Gothic church with its steeple enveloped in the night.

No matter that streetlights shadow abandoned houses, vacant lots, and brick sidewalks of North St. Louis as we drive toward home through the womb-like mist.

There is still life in such places for those who seek it. Emboldened by the Christmas story, laced with hardship and sacrifice, we carry its message of lightsome joy into the dark world around us.

Happy New Year!

 

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