Earlier this fall, I spent several days at the synod’s anti-racism training event, along with several dozens of our synod’s leaders. One of the first exercises was to create a wall of history, writing down by century whatever we could remember about the history of racial segregation, oppression, and violence. It was quite a somber experience, recognizing that racial tensions and segregation we experience today did not crop up overnight, but are the result of decisions and actions large and small over many generations.
Later this fall, we sponsored a presentation about the history of racial segregation in the Milwaukee area. While my father’s death prevented me from being in attendance, I spoke with many participants who again were struck by the ways that current tensions are the direct result of decisions and actions large and small over many generations.
This past week, I participated in a prayer vigil for International Migrants Day, and in the evening, I walked in procession with others who were seeking to honor and remember the plight of millions of people around the world who are forced to leave their homeland due to violence and poverty. Once again, the weight of it all seemed to press upon me, and even though we sought to find hope in the midst of it all, the darkness of the current realities was striking.
As we left Faith/Santa Fe Lutheran Church to walk the two blocks to Ascension, following Mary and Joseph in a procession in the Latino tradition of Las Posadas, in which the holy family are seeking lodging, we were handed small candles to light the way. To be honest, I scoffed a bit when I got my candle, as it was a bit windy that evening, and I thought, “There’s no way these candles will stay lit.” And it’s true, as we walked in the cold evening air, the candles were extinguished by the wind. But not all of them. Whenever we arrived at our next stop along the way, there were always a few candles that had somehow remained lit, and the light was quickly passed from candle to candle, and soon they were all aglow. Then we would walk to the next stop, and again, many of the candles would be darkened by the wind. But again, those that stayed lit shared their light, and the rhythm of the light would be repeated.
That’s how hope works, isn’t it? There are times when the darkness of our lives is profound, and our feeble attempts at lighting candles of hope are often extinguished by the cold, harsh winds of loneliness, violence, and despair. But in this Christmas season, we remember and proclaim that the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness does not overcome it. All we have to do, whenever our own light succumbs to the wind, is to turn to our neighbors, and as they share their light with us, our own hope and faith and love is rekindled.
The darkness of the night is real, and the challenges before us are many and profound. But if we stick together, sharing the light and the hope of Christ that is born in this season and made known to us in the manger, we will shine with the brightness of a new dawn. Thank you for the many ways that you bear witness to the light as you worship, connect, and strive for justice and peace in all the earth.
Bishop Paul Erickson