MOMENTS WITH THE MINISTER: The Light Shines in the Darkness

By Lander Bethel
Special to the Herald Democrat

Happy New Year! Or so we hope. Maybe it’s something more like, “Whew, glad to have 2020 behind us.” My guess is moving on to better times will not be as easy as a page turn on a calendar, if you’re still using paper calendars, or on to a new screen on your phone.

This past year brought horrific news and devastating circumstances for many people. The percentage of virus cases in our local hospitals is approaching 25%. That may be still higher after our Christmas gatherings and the subsequent incubation period catches up with us. This new year will probably not begin to look or feel much different from the old year for several more months.

2021 may have protocols for protecting one another that are very much like the year we are so glad to have behind us. And yet, some of us have discovered or rediscovered how good it is to cook and share evening meals together. We’ve connected at a deeper level electronically with people who are geographically separated from us. We’ve been able to make choices about what we might do that we wouldn’t have considered. Having Zoom gatherings for the holidays with family members, having Happy Hour online with friends we wouldn’t get to see as often, sending a surprise package to someone you care about just because you know it would make them happy, singing and worshiping with other people over a computer – these are just some of the ways maybe you’ve coped with the isolation of this past year.

2020 became a dark year. But on the 21st of December, the darkest night of the year, we saw a Christmas star appear through the conjunction of two planets. Maybe it’s similar to the star followed by the Wise Men in the Christmas story, that guided them to Bethlehem.

In the opening verses of John’s gospel, he tells us, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” That longest night of darkness has marked a turning point. The light of God’s love still comes into the world. “Light always makes a difference in the dark,” says Shelley Copeland, in commenting on this passage.

What does light shining in the darkness look like? Maybe for some it’s finally having access to a viable and effective vaccine. Maybe it’s being able to put your arms around your children, your parents, close friends, or people you haven’t seen in ages. Maybe it’s being able to hold someone’s hand who is suffering, without the fear of possibly making things worse by transmitting the virus. Maybe it’s being able to have a long overdue surgery performed without extra risk. Maybe it’s being able to dance again with friends around, and strangers, too, to live music, or to shake hands, sit in a movie theater, or have a night out at a favorite restaurant. It might even be gathering with family and friends, without restrictions, to honor the life of someone important to you. Light; light shines in the darkness.

CNN had a report back in December of our year of darkness, about the Marchessault family, from Atlanta, GA. Lynn and her two children were away from her husband, and their dad, because he had been stationed at Ft. Wainwright, in Fairbanks, Alaska. She finally decided she had had enough of being apart, deciding to pack up and move to Fairbanks. She planned ahead. She bought a 4x4 pick up, pared down their belongings, and prepared to

make the move. Because of the pandemic, Canada had a 5-day limit for Americans traveling through the country, along with restrictions about only eating at drive-throughs or take-out meals, even while at a motel.

She planned to make the trip in September, arriving in time to get things started for their son and daughter, and before the weather would get bad. But, being 2020, the travel visas in high demand didn’t arrive until late November. Anxious, but undeterred, she rented a U-Haul trailer, loaded up their belongings, along with two elderly dogs and one nervous cat, and drove the 3,000 miles to Saskatchewan.

Not long after entering Canada the weather began to get bad. She was white-knuckling the steering wheel as her 13-year-old son Payton, and 10-year-old daughter Rebecca, tried to reassure her in what became white-out driving conditions. Her windshield washer fluid ran out and she thought her tires were beginning to slip.

She made it to a gas station, let the kids out to use the bathroom, and leaned against the hood of the truck sobbing into her gloved hands. The woman working at the gas station came out to check on her, and she blurted out her dilemma. “Honey,” the woman said, “let’s check your tires.” They were not all-weather, as the dealership had told her, but summer tires. The woman drove her to a tire store, and they quickly got them changed. But Lynn was done.

She is not usually one to throw in the towel, but she called her staff-sergeant husband to say she just couldn’t go any further. And he would not be able to get travel documents to come get them.

The woman from the gas station put out an alert on Facebook to see if anyone could help. After seeing that no one had responded in the first few hours, Gary Bath, a Canadian ranger whose job involves training military survival skills for the Arctic, talked it over with his wife, and got in touch with Lynn.

The next morning they began the 1056 mile trip to the Canadian-Alaska border. Both having military experience, they hit it off right away, discovering that they both liked the Meals Ready to Eat, given to people in the field.

Over those two days, with only one blown tire that was quickly fixed, it seemed like they were old friends, making it just in time to meet Lynn’s husband.

There may still be dark days ahead. We will have challenges that may be hard to deal with. 2020 may feel like it is still sticking to us for a while. Remember this, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

Lander Bethel

Lander Bethel is the minister of Grand Avenue Presbyterian Church in Sherman and First Presbyterian Church in Denison. He earned a doctoral degree in ministry from McCormick Theological Seminary. He and his wife, Genna, live in Sherman. They have three sons. The views and opinions expressed here are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Herald Democrat.