P: The Light Shines in the Darkness
C: And the darkness cannot overcome it.

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

At the time Isaiah brings this message to God’s people, they were in the midst of a political crisis, a crisis of national identity and a crisis of faith. It was a time of deep darkness, a time that seemed hopeless. Yet into this seemingly hopeless time, Isaiah inserts both a hope and a promise for the people of Israel, God’s people. 

It’s been awfully dark lately here too. Not only have we been in the darkest time of year, a time in which the sun has slipped behind the horizon earlier and earlier each night, but for many days this month the clouds have blanketed the sun. It’s been dark. In addition, some have lost loved ones, health, jobs or relationships. And, if you feel that you are the only one who isn’t “ho-ho-hoing,” Christmas-time can be a “blue season.” 

These times of darkness are not to be discounted. But, in addition to seasonal and personal times of darkness and despair, there is a deeper darkness afoot, a darkness that will not dissipate with the turning of the season or the sun breaking through the clouds or even the passage of time. There is a crisis or maybe a series of crisis both in our country and in the world that threatens our freedom and seeks to shatter our hopes and dreams. The security crisis against terror has reverberated around the globe – from Paris to Beirut to San Bernadino… people acting in terrorist ways have not only hurt innocent people but also cast shadows of suspicion upon all who look like them. While our and other governments threaten to destroy the groups that claim responsibility for such atrocities, the fingers of fear continue to creep out into the world. Likewise, violence in the street, violence by and against police, racquets up even more violence and fear and threatens to snuff out joy and hope in our neighborhoods, our country and our world. 

Yet… into that darkness, we proclaim: 
P: The Light Shines in the Darkness;
C: And the darkness cannot overcome it.

Twenty-five years ago, the people in East Germany were living a pretty bleak existence. Rather than develop products or industry, much of the economy of that country was swept up into an elaborate system of spying. The Stasi police had a file on every single citizen – and took photos of and opened a file on every single person who entered the occupied territory of East Germany. Neighbors spied on neighbors. The system was pervasive. Protests were shut down violently. Darkness seemed to reign. 

But in the East German city of Leipzig, the people at Nikolaikirche, 
St. Nicholas Lutheran Church, were allowed to gather for prayer services. And so they gathered and lit candles – and prayed for peace. It started with only a few people. But soon others, hungry for a chance to express their hope and need and desire for light instead of darkness, also gathered to light a candle. The pastor welcomed everyone in. With candles lit, they marched for peace. It started with only a small number. But their numbers grew rapidly. The Stasi police were on high alert. At one point, they tried to pack the pews with spies and police officers. But the pastor “reserved” the balcony for real pray-ers and protestors. And the peaceful, candlelit prayer marches continued. 

On the night of October 8, 1989, more than 70,000 citizens gathered in the streets of Leipzig. Before the march the St. Nicholas pastor admonished the demonstrators, “Put down your rocks.” Meanwhile, the Stasi officials were waiting instructions to put down the demonstration with force. The orders never came. A month later, the Berlin wall fell. In a film depicting the struggle, the security chief who wanted to subdue this “rebellion” is shown staring out at the crowd in front of his headquarters and saying, “We planned everything. We were prepared for everything…except for candles and prayers.” 1

Remembering the candles and prayers of the people of Leipzig, we proclaim:
P: The Light Shines in the Darkness
C: And the darkness cannot overcome it.

As my family and I walked through the former headquarters of the Stasi police – now a museum -- it was easy to see the light shining out of the darkness. There, we were looking with 20-20 vision back into the past. It was a bit more disconcerting when we went to Checkpoint Charlie. We entered what we thought was a little museum of people who had escaped or tried to escape the Berlin Wall. But it wasn’t a little museum. It went on…and on… and on. We read the stories of those who fled oppression and the stories of those who didn’t make it out. It was a bit overwhelming – but also irresistible. So we kept going, reading story after story. Suddenly… we realized… we weren’t back 25 years anymore. The stories on the wall were no longer those fleeing East Germany. They were current. This was a living museum that was continuing to tell stories of people suffering oppression in the Ukraine, in Russia, in Afghanistan, and in other parts of the world. It was a reminder that we can’t simply pat ourselves on the back for the light that came through the prayers and candles of the Lutheran church in Leipzig. The darkness of oppression continues. And yet, we proclaim:

P: The Light Shines in the darkness
C: And the darkness cannot overcome it. 

Robert Fulghum, the man most famous for the book, Everything I Need to Know I learned in Kindergarten, wrote about what might have been the greatest lesson he learned – quite a bit after kindergarten. 

Fulghum had been attending a conference at an institute for peace in Crete, an island of Greece on the sight of some of the bloodiest fighting between German Nazi soldiers and Crete villagers. The center had been built for healing between the countries – and this conference was part of that intent. It was the last day, the last hour of a two week long conference and the speaker, a doctor of philosophy and a founder of the peace institute, Alexander Papaderos, rose and asked the question that is often asked at the end of a conference: “Are there any questions?” 

Fulghum raised his hand and asked, “"Dr. Papaderos, what is the meaning of life?" 

People laughed – and started getting ready to leave. But Papaderos held up his hand, stilled the room and said, “I will answer your question.” 

Reaching into his wallet, he brought out a very small round mirror, about the size of a quarter. He explained that during the war, his family was very poor. One day, on the road, he found the broken pieces of a mirror from a German motorcycle. He couldn’t put the pieces back together, but he kept the largest one and filed it down with a stone to make it round. He began playing with it as a toy – and became fascinated by the fact that he could reflect light into dark place, places where the sun would never shine – into deep holes, crevices and dark closets. It became a game – to shine the light into the deepest and darkest and least accessible places he could find. 

Even as he grew up, he kept the mirror – and in idle moments would continue the game. But as he became older, he realized that this was not just a child’s game. Rather, this was a metaphor for what he could do with his life. 

Papaderos said, “I came to understand that I am not the light or the source of light. But light -- truth, understanding, knowledge -- is there, and it will only shine in many dark places if I reflect it…I am a fragment of a mirror whose whole design and shape I do not know. Nevertheless, with what I have, I can reflect light into the dark places of this world…. and change some things in some people. Perhaps others may see and do likewise. This is what I am about. This is the meaning of my life."2

Brothers and sisters in Christ, this is the meaning, the purpose of our lives too. At your baptism, people of God lit a candle and proclaimed Jesus’ words to you: “let your light shine before others, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”  And so, sisters and brothers, by the light of Christ let us proclaim:

P: The Light Shines in the darkness
C: And the darkness cannot overcome it. 
P: And all God’s people said, “Amen.” 

Pastor Pamela Stalheim Lane
Christmas Eve, 2015


1 The Christian Century Nikolaikirche by Wall, James M. Film is Nikolaikirche, directed by Frank Beyer and based on a novel by East German author Erich Loest
2 It Was On Fire When I Lay Down On It, by Robert Fulghum