A Christmas Poem: Do Not Fear

Park View Mennonite Church, Harrisonburg VA.

“We live in fearsome times.” My father told me that when we uselessly practiced nuclear bomb drills by hiding under our school desks, when with trepidation I sat cross-legged on the floor in front of our black and white when JFK called the Russians’ bluff on Cuba, then when Dallas happened, and assassins shot Martin and Bobby, and cities burned, and a president resigned, and revolts occurred, and we always seemed to side with the bad guy, when we chided dictators for gassing people only to bomb the survivors in their mourning.

“We live in fearsome times.” My grandfather told me that when he silently remembered his own gassing in the war to end all wars and died at the age that I am now coughing and coughing and coughing because there were no records that he was poisoned 100 years ago on the western front.

“We live in fearsome times,” I tell my grandchildren in failed efforts to shield them from the constant volleys of lies and accusations and nonsense spewing forth into their innocent world by powerful people who lost their decency, compassion, and empathy long, long ago.

“Have no fear,” I reassure them to ears deafened by headsets and screen time. Still, I think they get it all, the nonsense, the truth-telling, and the untruth-telling. That is my hope in this season of hope. On this darkest day of the year, the winter solstice, there is enough oil now to keep the candles burning. But we have to keep pressing on like those Hanukkah days of old. We must pour new wine into new wineskins, not old. We don’t want to waste the wine by bursting.

We live in fearsome times. We must be patient in the season of waiting. We must choose clarity over certainty, though certainty it is that we too often choose, only to be disappointed, and blame circumstances and others for our wrong choices. Those in the Old and those in the New reported the same. Therefore, in this season of light, hope, peace, patience is the rule as “we live by faith, not by sight.”

Love Advent banner, Park View Mennonite Church, Harrisonburg VAWe live in fearsome times. This is the season of anticipation, joy, love, forgiveness, wonder, when blended, a recipe not to fear. We look for the brightest star to lead us forth, but stars are in heaven, not on earth. Behold the heavenly host is near. Do not fear.

We live in fearsome times. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, not on our terms, but Yours and Yours alone. Our fragility and our insecurity overcome our logic, excite our emotions precisely opposite of what the good tidings proclaim, why the angels yet rejoice. They know the true Ruler is the Lamb, not the lion.

We live in fearsome times. Humans always have, always will simply because we are human, unable or unwilling to listen, to hear, to comprehend the goodness, the freedom, the surety bestowed on us to bestow on others, especially during these dark days.

We live in fearsome times. What will we do? How can we go on? Awareness is enough.

“In the beginning was the word… The serpent was more crafty than any other… Everyone who thirsts… Sing aloud, O daughter Zion… Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah… In the sixth month… In those days a decree went out… In that region there were shepherds… And the Word became flesh… Fear not…” Hallelujah.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

Holiday lights illuminate seasonal darkness

holiday lights
Our modest Christmas display under a waxing crescent moon.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I always found it ironic that we celebrate the season of light and hope at the very darkest time of year in the Northern Hemisphere. Over the years, however, I’ve come to understand why.

We are in the midst of the season of hope and light. The eight-day Jewish celebration of Hanukkah has just concluded. Advent, the Christian pronouncement of the coming Messiah, ends on Christmas Day.

Menorah candles (Getty Image).
It is no coincidence that holiday lights shine the brightest during the season’s darkest hours. Isn’t that the purpose of Hanukkah and Christmas? The Menorah has nine candles while the Advent arrangement has five.

Aligned by tradition and calendar, the two holidays usher in the season of hope and peace through miracles and light. They are intricately and purposefully interwoven.

The darkness challenges us to survive and thrive. To that aim, we ponder, wonder, and imagine all that is both good and wrong with our immediate world as well as the world beyond our personal life space.

During the darkest time of year, the seasonal contrasts are stark. Too many earthly citizens are in despair. They search for the basics of life: food, shelter, water, and safety. Many face loneliness, financial hardships, family disputes, or significant health issues. These are indeed dark times for them.

Dissimilarly, flashy TV and online commercials urge us to delight others via elaborate gift giving. They tout that the holidays aren’t complete without a new car or pickup sitting in the driveway or a glittery diamond necklace dangling around your sweetheart’s neck.

Wouldn’t it be more fitting in this season of hope to bestow blessings on those in need of life’s essentials? Such generous acts would undoubtedly help brighten the dark season of life if only for a few.

Advent candles.
Advent candles on Christmas Day.
The festive seasonal lights shine far beyond the reach of the Menorah and Advent candles. Hope means more than the sparkling, flashing, flickering lights of Christmas, more than the glittery cards and lavishly wrapped gifts beneath a festive tree.

The music of the season should spark a spirit within us to reach far beyond our circle of family and friends with whom we gather to celebrate. Perhaps like me, multiple year-end appeals for funds from bona fide charities that help the poor, the orphaned, the hungry, and the homeless have besieged you.

It is easy to be numbed by the sheer volume of needs. It doesn’t have to be. It would be both prudent and appropriate for those of us who share the Judeo/Christian experience and heritage to shine that warming light to others in whatever way we can. That would both help brighten their potentially dim holidays and create a real sense of personal satisfaction.

Christmas tree
Christmas tree.
As people of faith, shouldn’t we be the light that those in need seek? In the spirit of the season, that is something to ponder and do.

The luminaries of Hanukkah and Christmas remind and challenge those of each faith to reflect on the past and the foundations of their shared customs. The lights also illuminate those in our midst who are hurting and downtrodden.

If each one of us would reach out to help at least one person, one family, or donate to one charity, the holidays would be a little brighter for them and us. Doing so would be reason enough to light yet one more holiday candle.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

Season of Lights

Advent candles
Advent candles.

In the Northern Hemisphere, we have entered the time of our shortest days, our darkest time of year. We also approach two important religious holidays that happen to occur simultaneously this year. The Jewish festival of lights, Hanukkah, begins on Saturday. The Christian celebration of Christmas is Sunday, with many activities taking place on Christmas Eve or Saturday.

The Hanukkah and Christmas celebrations each revolve around lights. Hanukkah has its menorah, Christmas its star of Bethlehem. Hanukkah celebrations run through New Year’s Day. Some Christians follow the 12 days of Christmas to January 6, also known as Old Christmas or Three Kings Day.

In both instances, the light shines brightly in December’s darkness. “Season of Lights” is my Photo of the Week.

Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016