In the middle of one of the longest nights of the year, we drove. Ten degrees above zero, clear skies, no wind and the Northern Lights danced over snowy pastures, lakes, swamps and dark forests. We were going home. Christmas Eve. Grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins galore, had just shared a wonderful evening as they crowded into Uncle Joe and Aunt Esther’s house in the country outside of Proctor, in Minnesota. Christmas decorations, delicious food, fun and laughs, even a visit from Santa. However, one of my uncles had to work and missed the merry old man.
Now, bundled up in winter coats, boots, scarves, mittens and tasseled beanies, side by side, our family curled up as the radiator pumped warm air into the protective confines of our room. car. We marveled at the Northern Lights, seen by our ancestors as far as humans existed and again in the sky above us. Our night became more and more magical as amazing colors roamed the sky. We were due back to Alborn at 11pm for the Christmas Eve candlelight service at the Lutheran Church in Bethlehem. More lights and colors awaited.
Once inside the small sanctuary with white spiers, beloved neighbors, friends and relatives gathered on benches as the old oil stove glowed and radiated heat, barely preventing the winter chill of escape. Soon the Christmas carols played on the old pump organ and warmly sung by these people of Northwood lifted hearts and soothed spirits. And before the pastor preached, or the portable candles were lit or “Silent Night” was sung, Luke’s Christmas Gospel was read. Every year on Christmas Eve the same words – “Do not be afraid; for I bring you good news of great joy to all the people: to you is born today in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah the Lord.
I was about 8 years old, in grade two, well past bedtime. Maybe I dozed off on the bench with my head in my mother’s lap, but the words were still read in Luke’s Gospel. The promise always given. Every Christmas Eve.
These words were proclaimed when Dad was repairing jeeps in remote New Guinea during WWII. When Reserve Mining dumped asbestos-laden tailings into Lake Superior. Long after research showed that smoking tobacco could cause cancer. Tuberculosis, rheumatic fever, chicken pox, mumps and measles have all been pushed back by medical advances and vaccines. Polio also had a cure, but it still stole the life of my second year classmate before she could receive the new treatment.
These words – “Do not be afraid”, “good news”, “great joy”, “all the people”, “Savior” – they were shared among people, on Christmas Eve, again, later, while my cousin was jumping from helicopters in Vietnam, when John Fitzgerald Kennedy and Martin Luther King were murdered, when the Civil Rights Act was passed, when Neil Armstrong stepped on the moon, when the Berlin Wall fell.
This Christmas Eve 2021, in the midst of our deadly fight against COVID-19, racism, climate change, radical political divide and many uncertainties, even regarding the future of our democracy, this promise will be read from the pulpits of the churches, around family Christmas trees, in hospital rooms, nursing homes, homeless shelters and in prison cells throughout our community and around the world. The good news was given to the shepherds in their nocturnal workplaces, to the young parents in the barn, to the foreign soldiers who stood guard in the palace, and to the elderly waiting with hope near their homes for God’s help. Same today. Where and when.
“Do not be afraid; to see – I bring you good news of great joy for all the people: to you was born today in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. Once again, Northern Lights, Christmas carols, Christmas trees or not, we will have another opportunity to hear and believe God’s promise, to live it, to be carried by it by God.
Merry Christmas. And don’t be afraid.