Sheep, Fields, and Fears
Rev. Joshua D. Gill
The other day I read article in the Washington Post that was pretty inspiring. Sydney Page writes, “ It started last November with single string of Christmas light on a Baltimore County street.” Kim Morton was sitting at home watching a movie with her daughter when she got a text from her neighbor Matt Riggs. The text told her to take a peek outside. She looked outside and saw a small tin of cookies on her porch and string of white Christmas light stretching over the street from his home to hers. Matt wanted Kim to know that they were always connected even in pandemic isolation. Morton had been with dealing with depression, anxiety, and panic attacks. What happened next was surprising to Matt Riggs. Over the next week neighbor after neighbor began stringing lights from side of the street to other, from house to house. One neighbor spent all night bending coat hangers and attaching lights to build a sign that says, “Love, Lives, Here”. The lights began to spread outside of their block, and soon other blocks started to follow suit. Each block put slightly different twist on it. Some blocks, used color bulbs, others used twinkling bulbs, still added light up signs that said “dream” and “believe”.
For this neighborhood lights began to push back the darkness for everyone.  The lights connecting everyone in a difficult moment. But they silent witnesses to one other thing, they don’t deny existence of the darkness, they simply found a better way to overcome it the way of community, of unity and of love.
Our scripture tells us of another darkness. Instead of pandemic, it is an oppressed people. A people who have been marginalized, conquered, and ruled. Rome demands they be registered, so they travel to Bethlehem. In the midst of this brokenness Mary gives birth to a Son, who is the hope of the world, who is the light in the darkness, who brings down the mighty and lifts up the oppressed. Jesus who is with us in our best moments and our worst moments.
Pastor Ted Loder in his book Tracks in the Straw: Tales Spun from the Manger tells the following story. He writes, “I always seem to ruin Christmas before it arrives… I recall one year where my wife Jan and I scheduled a dinner for friends… On the morning of the party, we admitted to each other that we were too tired and preoccupied to enjoy it…. When our guests arrived, they hinted at having similar feelings… but they pressed on out of social obligation. Not surprising, during the course of the conversation things got a bit heated. It was on some topic so important that I can’t remember it now… After they left I was so upset I picked arguments with whoever approached… I was righteously angry.. In my anger I began to clean up the kitchen and prosecute my case to an imaginary jury. In the process of ranting and raving, I broke the handle off an old, flower-gilded, gold rimmed pitcher that had been given to Jan, by her beloved departed grandmother. With the handle broken, it fell to floor smashed into a thousand pieces — shards and splinters skittered through kitchen, the adjoining room and down the stairs to the basement… Jan’s eyes filled with tears…. She looked at me and whispered, “It’s too bad.”… she left the kitchen and went upstairs. I stood in the ache of silence with tears trickling down my cheeks realizing I’d blown it again… I don’t know how long I stood there, but my self-examination was interrupted by the sound of Jan’s footsteps coming back.. Without a sideward glance, she got the broom and dustpan… I could not find words for my shame. It seemed pitiful to say, “I’m sorry,” but I did.. In the remaining days leading up to Christmas. I kept finding fragments and splinters in strange places.. Each time I found another piece of the pitcher. I thought about how much it meant to Jan, how it was filled with many memories and much love, and all the hopes that immigrant grandmother had for her granddaughter.. I wondered if she had purchased it as secondhand store with some of the few pennies she’d saved from her work as a seamstress.. Whatever its story… it was a priceless gift to Jan. I often thought about the piece Jan put on her dresser the night I broke it. I found the last piece before going to bed early Christmas morning after coming home from the midnight Christmas Eve service… it was lying on the driveway… I found it because of the light of the moon, or the stars, or the neighbors window, hit it just so.. It came to me then that maybe Christmas is like finding those pieces in curious places after the shattering happens. Finding little pieces of what Christmas means, of what the gift is, in the corners of our lives, in the cracks of our failures, and ruinations… in friends’ small expressions of love and forgiveness and trust, in changes to begin again and again. In driveways filled with starlight. God here and there everywhere. The light penetrating the darkness and hitting what is broken and somehow mysteriously reflecting hope. I remembered again a grandmother, a granddaughter, and another woman who long ago brought a child in to the world in an out of the way place. God there, here, working in the broken world amidst broken people who break things. .. I went into the house, through the kitchen up the stairs and into the bedroom. I put that piece of the pitcher.. next to the piece Jan kept on her dresser”…
God is here, there, and everywhere. God is with us in the pain of anxiety, depression, and isolation; God is with through us through the stringing of lights. God is with us in moments of anger and in moments of forgiveness, God is with us… That is what Christmas is, God is here.
 Ted Loder. Tracks in the Straw: Tales Spun from the Manger (Kindle Locations 1393-1397). Kindle Edition.