A Christmas without lights

Published 12:14 pm Thursday, December 10, 2020

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By Nathan Decker

Sometimes we are so spoiled we don’t really get what we need. I’ll confess. I was spoiled as a child. Growing up I never worried about whether or not we would have food, clothing or a roof over our heads. At Christmas, it always seemed like ma and pa knew exactly what we wanted. And I was surrounded by my ma’s family: cousins to play with, uncles who gave us underwear, aunts who gave us handkerchiefs, grandma who gave the best hugs, and other folk I’m sure I am related to, but I just can’t tell how!

The Christmas tree glowed and twinkled with lights of red, green, blue and white. For me, Christmas was all about the lights. In the light the ornaments reflected our faces in the angelic glow. We would spend hours going around town looking at Christmas lights. We would sing Christmas carols or sing along with Mickey Mouse and the gang on vinyl. We would all feast upon turkey, ham, cornbread, hominy and all sorts of fixin’s followed by desserts of pumpkin pie, pecan pie, divinity, fudge and peanut brittle … all homemade. Each year, my sister, ma, pa and me would open gifts on Christmas Eve, then on Christmas Day we spent the time with the larger family. It was postcard picture perfect, except one year.

Let me tell you about the weather in the Ozark mountains of Missouri and Arkansas. In the summer it gets up past 100 degrees and in the winter it stays just at freezing for at least part of December, January, February and sometimes March. Spring and fall usually last a week, but you never know which one it will be, or what month decides to claim it. You’d think that cold winters would mean wonderful snow every Christmas, but usually we just got ice. Lots and lots of freezing rain, freezing fog, freezing your toes and freezing your nose. Snow was rare except when it wasn’t. Every 3 to 5 years Jack Frost would come a blowing a blizzard and suddenly we’d have loads of snow piled up 13-20 inches.

One year the blizzard came on Christmas Eve. We had already had two ice storms that year. The trees were already crackling with layer upon layer of slick, heavy ice. The powerlines drooped low. The roads were atrocious. I was playing Hot Wheels on the floor. My sister was in her room playing with her Barbies. I remember Ma was in the kitchen baking and pacing. She was baking to get her mind off worries. She was worried because the storm came in early and pa was supposed to come home from work an hour ago.

A knock on the door made us all jump. Ma rushed to the door, terrified to open it, but anxious to do so as well. When she did, there stood Pa. He looked like he’d lost a pillow fight and all the feathers had stuck to him. From his eyebrows to his fingertips, snow peppered him white. Shaking off he told us the story of his car sliding off the road a mile from home. We were so happy … and then the power went out.

Power outages were a normal thing when I was growing up. Storms, tornados, derechos, ice storms all seemed to regularly interrupt the flow of electricity to our home. For the most part, we were OK, though. We played cards, read books and played board games a lot. But to have a power outage at Christmas?!

A Christmas without lights! The tree looked dull, dark and ordinary. I remember just staring at the loss of life in the tree. The bubble lights slowly stopped their movement. The twinkle and tinsel just froze. Christmas went dark. No car ride to go see the Christmas lights. No tunes by Mickey Mouse and the gang. And since Dad’s car was stuck a mile down the road in a snow bank. No turkey, ham, hominy, or cornbread. No pie, no desserts, no peanut brittle. No hugs from Grandma.

Christmas without lights meant a Christmas disaster! Ever pragmatic, Pa went and got the kerosene heater while Ma began hanging blankets on the doorways to keep the heat in the central part of the house. The power didn’t come on for days. But we were OK because we got what we needed. We still opened gifts around that dark but mysterious tree by candlelight. The flames flickered and gave life to everything. We still sang carols including “Grandma got ran-over by a reindeer” and “The 12 days of Christmas.” We had cold turkey sandwiches and hot cocoa ma cooked in a pot on the kerosene heater. And it was the best Christmas ever because we were together.

We can be so spoiled we don’t really get what we need. We can focus so much on the darkness that we miss the light. When the church chose December as the season to celebrate Christ’s coming, the church chose the darkest part of the year. Dec. 21 is the longest night of the year, the winter solstice. And in this darkest hour, dimmest moment, that’s the time when Christ appears. John’s gospel states clearly:

What came into being

through the Word was life,

and the life was the light for all people.

The light shines in the darkness,

and the darkness doesn’t extinguish the light.

Let’s be honest, let’s confess. We are spoiled, and we focus too much on the darkness. The darkness spoils us; we are allowed to step all over one another without truly seeing each other. The darkness hides us; we don’t have to face our problems because we can always point to someone else’s. The darkness spreads so easily; no news travels faster than bad news. The darkness intoxicates us with the lie that we have all the power.

Strike a match, light a candle and watch how the darkness retreats powerlessly. Shine light on the good things that are happening and watch how icy hearts melt. Glow from within and the problems of this world suddenly are not so monstrous. Let your light shine, and watch how you help those who stumbled and fell get back on their feet.

The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot diminish his glory. One year a blizzard took everything I thought Christmas was about away from me, but it taught me such an important lesson. At Christmas we light candles. Christ is the Light. Christmas is all about the lights. Our Light, the light of Christ within us, will never go out. Amen.

NATHAN DECKER is the pastor of High Street United Methodist Church. Contact him at 562-3367.