Column: In the Dark of Night, a Song To Light the Way
By James B. Lemler
It began with one of those late evening Metro North rides back to Greenwich last week. The train was December-packed tight, and there was another more serious problem. Someone had done too much Manhattan party imbibing and was spouting vitriol about people of a particular religion at the top of her voice as we waited to leave Grand Central. Such a contrast to the bright holiday lights of the city, the hope of the season, and the core message of the great religious traditions and pathways of faith. Just as I went to say something hopefully pastoral but clear to her, a conductor came to the car and asked her to follow him off the train. She did.
The word “local” took on new meaning. It seemed as though we made a hundred stops, taking hours instead of minutes. My heart was heavy as I wondered whether we human beings would ever make progress for real peace in this world. Finally I came Greenwich station and a cab waiting in the rain (yes, it was a wet, dreary night). The driver was a lovely man who told me a bit about his life and journey as an immigrant from another part of the world, and how his faith sustained him in both his country of origin and this one (okay, wearing a clergy collar does attract such stories).
Home at last, the fare paid, I opened the car door and made ready to go into my house and to bed. “Oh, but Father, wait a minute,” he said, rolling down his window. Then to my utter astonishment and delight, he picked up a violin and bow from the seat next to him (which I hadn’t seen) and played a beautiful hymn of faith and compassion. What a generous thing to do. Not only did it soothe my soul, but it penetrated the midnight darkness with the proclamation of the season: the greatness of the love, the mercy, and the renewal of God. My first Christmas gift… and what a precious and poignant one.
We have come to an urgent and challenging moment in our world, in our country, and in our lives. There is war and there is terror. There is hateful rhetoric and there is gross distrust. There is accusation and there is fear. In my Christian tradition, the song of the angels that filled the night sky on the night of the birth of the baby Jesus went like this: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward people everywhere.” This angelic song penetrated the darkness and still does. This peace shattered the enmity and hatred of the world, and still does. This light shone then, and still shines on in the shadows of human fear and sorrow. The song gives voice to the holy birth and the hope of humanity all together.
We are getting a lot of messages right now. Some of them come from the confusion of the moment. Some of them are rooted in sad experiences of our own past. Some of them stem from the existential fear that infects the human heart. But there is a very, very different message available to us: “Peace on Earth; good will toward people everywhere.”
God’s gift to us is peace. God’s promise to us is goodness and wholeness. That is the message of the Christmas angels. It finds its expression in wondrous song; that of a generous taxi driver who has found a new home in this country and plays a song about the goodness of God, and also in the carols, songs, and hymns sung in houses of worship and at home during this Christmas season.
May the message find expression in the lived song of the human heart as well. We have a Christmas choice (the same choice witnessed to by other great pathways of faith as well)… to be inebriated by the darkness of enmity and fear, or to sing, embrace, and live the song of the light and love that is God. I will choose “Peace on Earth, good will toward people everywhere.” It will sustain my soul and can sustain us all.
The Rev. Dr. James B. Lemler is the rector of Christ Church in Greenwich.