Ray had just poured a large glass of the best Riesling he had when the power went out.

“Whatever,” he thought, “I was going to sit in just the glow of the Christmas tree anyway. Total darkness fits my mood better and I don’t need any light to get the rest of this bottle into my glass.”

It was so much more than the long day at work with the extra work from all the co-workers who took off to spend the holiday with family and the commute home that was twice as long due to a jack-knifed semi at dead man’s curve that contributed to Ray’s dismal attitude. He had never much liked Christmas ever since he had the brilliant idea to come out to his parents during semester break after his freshman year of college. That was the last time he was welcome in the home he grew up in. And the only time since that he heard his mother’s voice was when she called to tell him that his grandfather had died, but his father was clear that Ray was not to come to the funeral. Decades had buried the hurt but the pain stung every year as the nights lengthened.

The winter after his grandfather’s death, Ray screwed up the courage to do something he hadn’t done since he was “invited” to leave youth group because he made the other boys uncomfortable, he entered a church. It was December 21, the winter solstice, the longest night of the year, and the nearby United Church of Christ was holding a Blue Christmas service. He wasn’t one to believe in miracles, but Joseph always said that their meeting that night was one.

Ray lifted his glass and attempted to sing Auld Lang Syne, but couldn’t manage it as he choked back tears. Marriage equality may have been sweeping the country but the Sixth Circuit Court seemed to have missed that memo, so not only was Joseph gone, but so was any chance of Ray having benefits as a surviving spouse. He hadn’t even been allowed to visit Joseph on those final days in ICU. The irony of the funeral being on the summer solstice wasn’t lost on Ray. Every day for six months, he greeted the sunset with a toast, adding one more layer to the shell that encased his spirit in increasing darkness.

“What the…?” Ray neatly snagged the wine bottle as it teetered due to his leaping out of his seat when the knock came at the door. “Who’s there?” Ray barked.

“I have important papers to hand deliver to Mr. Raymond Tolliver.”

Ray opened the door a crack and had to squint as the light of the courier’s flashlight shone in his eyes. He blinked once and then read the man’s ID, “Angel Rodriguez, New Beginnings Delivery Service.” It seemed legit, so he signed for the delivery and before he could decide on whether to offer a tip or a drink of wine to the messenger, he was gone in a receding pinpoint of light and a fading “Feliz Navidad.”

Ray kicked the table leg, the cat’s dish and the corner of kitchen wall before he found a candle and a match by which he could examine the envelope in his hands. Inside was a letter from the Law Offices of King and Shepherd informing him that they were in charge of the estate of his grandfather, Mr. Francis Tolliver and that he should find enclosed a letter that Mr. Tolliver had written just weeks before his death with instructions to deliver it to his grandson on Christmas Eve, 2014.

Ray took a big gulp of wine before he began reading.

My dear, dear Ray,

How I have missed our visits in recent years. My heart aches at the chasm that exists between my son and grandson. Believe me when I tell you that your father was raised better. Your grandmother and I always thought that a good church upbringing would provide a strong moral foundation for our children. The fact that it is church teaching that fuels your father’s rejection of you is the reason I no longer go to church. But that doesn’t mean I have quit believing in God. The church spends too much time trying to get people to suspend reason in order to believe unreasonable facts while totally missing the truth of the stories entrusted to them. There is a truth buried in a story that I lived through exactly 100 years ago tonight that I have never told you that I think you need to hear now.

I was serving with 5th Scottish Rifles on the Western Front. Both sides were dug into trenches, no one was going anywhere fast. The killing was beyond imagining. We were living in a hell that could only end when one side finally ran out of bullets or soldiers to kill. But on Christmas Eve the firing practically ceased. I think both sides understood we were going to have a day off. Through the night we sang carols to one another, the German lines were only a hundred yards away, so we heard each other quite plainly. This went on all night. When dawn arrived we started putting our head above the parapet and waved to each other. On our left was a brewery occupied by the Germans and to our surprise we saw a German come out and hold his hand up, behind him were two rolling a barrel of beer. They came halfway across and signed to us to come for it. Three of us went out, shook hands with them, wished them a merry Christmas, and rolled the barrel to our own trenches amid the cheers of both British and Germans! After that it was understood that peace was declared for a day. We both got out of our trenches and met in the middle of the field, wished each other seasons greetings. The Germans said: “A merry Grismas!”. Some of them were quite good at English. We had a most interesting day. The Germans got permission for our officers to bury some of their dead which were lying near our lines.

It was that Christmas Eve, when your father was not yet a twinkle in his old man’s eye, that he was named. Seeing the German lanterns atop Christmas trees across no man’s land, I felt a ray of hope for humanity. In that instance I resolved that if I made it home alive and if I should be fortunate enough to have a son that my hope for the future would be named Ray.

I pray that I’m wrong, but I fear that you have continued to retreat into your pain threatening to extinguish the light of compassion in you. That is why you needed to hear my tale. Whatever really happened in ancient Bethlehem, belief in that story about peace, love and joy, still retains the power of truth to make enemies into friends, if just for a night. Re-find your light, even if it is a melancholy compassion for the hurt that makes others hurt you, or the self-loathing that informs the way they see the world.

My dear little Ray, be light in the world, my child, be light.

It was a good thing there was no more to read since Ray couldn’t see through his tears. Just as he reached for a tissue, the sound of motors humming and electronics coming on startled the cat, who leaped up from where she was nestled under the tree, knocking off an ornament that fell to the floor with a thud. After so much darkness, even just the glow of the Christmas lights was blinding, but Ray found his way to the broken ornament. Thankfully, it was only a slight crack since it was a very special ornament, it depicted the Holy Family and was one the he and Joseph had picked out for their first Christmas together. Ray hung it carefully on the tree, noticing the tiny piece that was missing allowed light to shine through it making it glow with a new radiance. It was then that he noticed music playing. He had forgotten that he had hit play on the iPod just before the power had gone out. The lyrics of that Leonard Cohen song would become scripture to him as he decided a truce in his war with the world was in order and that it might be a good night to be born again.

The birds they sang
at the break of day
Start again
I heard them say
Don’t dwell on what
has passed away
or what is yet to be.
Ah the wars they will
be fought again
The holy dove
She will be caught again
bought and sold
and bought again
the dove is never free.

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.

RevIan Lynch is pastor of Old South UCC in Kirtland, Ohio, where  Darkwood Brew is used as a tool for ministry as  church beyond walls. He has a YouTube channel called Bible Bytes,  short video commentaries on the scripture lesson for the week.

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