2The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness— on them light has shined. 3You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as people exult when dividing plunder. 4For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. 5For all the boots of the tramping warriors and all the garments rolled in blood shall be burned as fuel for the fire. 6For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.
The readings for this week are the readings assigned for Christmas Eve.
There is nothing quite like standing at the altar on Christmas Eve with a full congregation, candles in hand. As the church is darkened, the light is passed from the Christ Candle to the acolytes and ushers to the congregation. The darkness is overcome by the light.
I have made it my tradition to invite the congregation to join me in raising our candles on high for the prayer following the singing of “Silent Night.” To watch the room brighten with the light we carry always takes my breath away.
No matter the darkness we experience, the pain that we endure, the shadows that can often be overwhelming, the Light of the World breaks into the darkness, and floods us with God’s love and warmth and peace. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it.
Following several years teaching at the University of Evansville, Walt Wangerin, Jr. (you may know him as the author of “Ragman” and “The Cry of the Whole Congregation – a Passion Sunday Worship Service”) was called to be the pastor of one of the Lutheran Churches there in Evansville. Early in his tenure there, he received a beautifully written letter. The paper was of the finest quality and the writing had been done in wonderful calligraphy. When he opened it up, he found an invitation to have lunch with Clara Schreiber, a 90-year-old widow of the church. Wangerin said that the invitation felt more like a summons than an invitation. How could one decline such an offer? He accepted and went to her home for the scheduled luncheon.
Together they sat quietly at the dinner table while Walt ate, and Clara sat quietly. It was a bit awkward, but once the meal was finished, she began speaking. She said, “I suppose you are wondering why I have invited you here today. There are three reasons. First, your grandfather was my pastor when I was younger, and I wanted to see what had become of the Wangerin family.
Second, I know that you are a writer, and I would like to be your mentor.” This part was a bit unexpected for Wangerin because he hadn’t told anyone that he was a writer. He usually waited until his wife was in bed before sitting down and writing until he could no longer stay awake. Clara’s offer was a wonderful gift, but Walt was puzzled about how she knew he was a writer.
Even more puzzling was her third statement. She concluded by saying, “I don’t want you to ever have to dance in the dark.”
She would go on to tell a bit of her story. In her younger days, it was considered frivolous for a woman to write a book. But it was what she wanted to do. So every day, after her husband was at work and her children were at school, after Clara had completed all the tasks for the day, she would sit down at the dinner table, pull out a clean sheet of paper and begin to write. But before anyone came home, she would return all the papers to a box, hide it away in the closet and tell no one of what she was doing. She kept this a secret from everyone.
When the manuscript was complete, she filed it away for several months. Finally, she worked up the courage to put the manuscript into an envelope and send it to a publisher. Not knowing the proper procedure, she wrapped it with a pretty bow and added a handwritten note. It read, “I would like to offer this manuscript for publication, Sincerely, Mr. Schreiber.” She mailed it off and waited.
Months passed before she received a thin letter of reply. It was addressed to Mr. Schreiber from the publishing company. She set it aside. Once again, when her husband was at work and her children were at school, she dared to open this letter. On a single page was written the reply, “Dr. Mr. Schreiber, we would be pleased to publish your manuscript.” Clara was so elated that she began to dance there in the front room of her home. She whirled and twirled with delight.
But before she did that, she said to Walt, she closed the curtains tight. And she looked him straight in the eye and said, “I don’t want you to ever have to dance in the dark.”
God wants the children to squirm and dance and sing. God wants the men to sing and hug and weep. God wants the women to speak and teach and inspire. God wants all of us to use the unique gifts we have been given.
When we gather in worship, we come to a place where we can bring our whole selves and know that we are loved and accepted by God’s grace. We come here to acknowledge that that no one has to dance alone.
We long for the day we can dance together again!
Let us Pray. Almighty God, Lord of the Dance, encourage us to boldly worship you, with voice and action. May we open the curtains and dance once more. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.