“It was cold, bleak, biting weather: foggy withal: and he could hear the people in the court outside, go wheezing up and down, beating their hands upon their breasts, and stamping their feet upon the pavement stones to warm them. The city clocks had only just gone three, but it was quite dark already: it had not been light all day: and candles were flaring in the windows of the neighbouring offices, like ruddy smears upon the palpable brown air.”
Those words are from the first paragraph of one of the greatest Christmas stories ever written. Hearing them read, you may think that they come from some dark tale of Edgar Allan Poe – or perhaps the scriptwriter from “The X-Files.”
In fact, they’re from the first paragraph of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” These are the washed-out, gray words Dickens chooses to set the scene: to depict the bleak, dark, foggy existence of one Ebenezer Scrooge, man of business and sorrows.
I suppose the beginning of “A Christmas Carol” is a reminder that for many of us, the holidays ahead begin in the dark. That’s what the prophets of old spoke of, when they promised a light that would pierce the darkness. We know quite a lot about darkness these days, with a war still dragging on in Iraq, the struggle to contain nuclear proliferation, and the ongoing struggle against terrorism. On a personal level, this time of year, as warm and lovely as it sometimes is, brings with it bouts of depression. Perhaps that is because, for many of us, our lives don’t exactly feel like the warm and wonderful images on Christmas cards and holiday commercials.
If we think we know something of darkness , just think of those few folks who live way up in Barrow, Alaska, where the autumn brings a darkness that isn’t pierced by the light of the sun for months. Finally, little by little, the sun comes closer to the horizon, bringing a faint and hopeful glow.
Finally, when the sun brushes the horizon, there is celebration on the beach. The central activity is the blanket toss. Four people each grab a corner of a blanket and spread it on the sand of the beach. A fifth person lies down on the middle of the blanket. With coordinated movement, those holding the corners pull them out quickly, snapping the blanket tight and throwing the person into the air. They do it over and over again, tossing ever higher into the sky while people stand in a circle clapping and singing. The lucky one who is tossed in the air gets the first glimpse of the sun.
It’s a good portrait of this time of the year. Even in the darkness, the light is coming. And when we get together, when we lift each other up, we can begin to see the light.
May these days of waiting bring you blessing and joy, and light for your darkness.
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