The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness—
on them light has shined….
…For 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.
(Isaiah 9:2, 6)
When I was in seminary in the late 1990s I did my clinical work in a long-term care facility in Minneapolis called The Good Samaritan Center. Because I was doing my Clinical Pastoral Education credit (or CPE) in the winter quarter it meant that as soon as I completed my finals mid-December I would start at Good Samaritan the next day. It also meant I was scheduled to work on Christmas Eve.
One of my units was for people who had Huntington’s Disease which breaks down nerves cells in the brain. People with this condition lose more and more control of their faculties over time as the disease eventually kills them. Hunington’s disease is a genetic condition that can sometimes lie dormant a few generations so it can often strike without warning. Since there is no cure that news can be devastating.
I learned a lot about faith and joy from these amazing people I had the privilege to get to know over the course of the few months I worked there. They embodied hope in a broken way the world didn’t understand. In many ways they were written-off by others as lost causes. The folks I knew appreciated each moment they had as a gift. We used to play a lot of games and joke around a lot. And I would give them some reassurance of both God’s love and their community’s care for them when they were having bad days. As upbeat people tried to be, there were bad days; often some very dark ones.
On Christmas Eve I received a page (remember those?) from my supervisor who was enjoying his family that evening. When I called him back he told me that one of the people in the Huntington’s unit was dying. Her family had asked for healing oil and prayers. At that time I was unfamiliar with what I was supposed to do (healing oil was foreign to me at the time), but my supervisor assured me we had a rite for healing in our leader book, he told me where the oil was on his shelf and he talked me through how to lead it.
Unsure of doing the prayers wrong and still unsure of what I was supposed to do, I went up to the room, which was darkened except for the reading light coming from the arm on her hospital bed. I talked to her even though she couldn’t respond. I reminded her of who I was and why I was with her.
Then I pulled out the book. I read the scriptures and offered the prayers, and then I got out the anointing oil – the first time I had ever used it – tracing the cross on her forehead and giving her the blessing. I remember the sole tear that ran down her cheek as I did. I just sat there in silence with her until she closed her eyes back into sleep or that state of unconsciousness that happens near the end as life fades into darkness.
Yet Light did shine in the darkness.
God shined Light through that moment.
In her fear.
In that moment.
It was Christmas Eve. It was dark. It was cold. It was snowing. I just sat with someone dying and I sat down in the office to process what had happened and write it up for my supervisor.
I still had to drive 300 miles in a blizzard to got to Tammie’s parents’ house for Christmas after my shift was over. But somehow, I knew it was going to be OK.
That mark on the cross of that woman’s forehead as I commended her to God’s care as she cried reminded us both that she was going to be OK.
On this darkest night of the year, we hear again the prophet speak that those who walk in darkness will see a great light. Somehow in the promise his coming – we are going to be OK.
That is what hope is and what hope longs for; and his name is “Wonderful Counselor. Mighty God. Everlasting Father. Prince of Peace.”
I have a meme that says:
FAITH IS ABOUT BEING OK NO MATTER HOW THINGS TURN OUT.
That is what our Advent hope and expectation is all about: Waiting for the Light that darkness cannot overcome but stepping out before the dawn breaks.
The Light that is coming illumines our lives, overcomes our fears, forgives our sin, meets us on the longest nights of our brokenness, gives us courage to keep going, and leads us out from death to life.
The Light that is coming shines through you and me; Light that cannot be hidden under a basket and it is as bright as a city on a hill for all to see.
The Light that is coming is announced in the darkness, traced on our foreheads, and met in our tears.
On us, Light shines. That Light is Christ the Lord.
Wait in that hope just a little while longer. Dawn will soon break.
His Light is almost here…