Years ago, on winter nights in Sandisfield when it was late and all was quiet, I sometimes stepped away from the fireplace and stood outside alone on the front porch. On some nights, it was so cold, the darkness so deep, it felt that nothing could live or move. In those Berkshire Decembers, in the dark grip of the solstice, the frigid bitter depths of night air whispered anything but life.
But there was more out there in the snow-covered woods than met the eye.
In that stillness, there was yet movement. Sometimes, far away, ice shifted on a remote pond, emitting a cold, eerie, weary moan. Other times, a distant crack would pierce the forest when a snow-laden branch couldn’t take it anymore and gave way.
And there was life. Under that thick ice, fish swam on very slowly simply waiting, somehow aware that the sun would eventually return. Inside lodges built painstakingly in the summer heat, beavers hunkered down expecting better days. Under the deep snow, a vast unseen kingdom hustled here and there, chasing food or being chased, while still others burrowed deep to hide in hidden hollows for a long sleep.
On the surface, everything appeared dead and frozen, but beyond my vision a symphony of life played on, getting ready for an eventual resounding crescendo of resurrection at the end.
So it is during every Berkshire winter. Despite the darkness, the cold, the stillness, and the silence, everywhere we can’t see, life keeps a mysterious rhythm with the season, an imperceptible cadence and tune, perfectly on key within a larger song that whispers powerfully of the counterintuitive.
Is it possible that like a frozen Berkshire winter in the cold, dark woods, our earthly experience harbors a heartbeat and a purpose that too often, too easily eludes us as we rush to and fro with our eyes cast downward? Yes, it’s possible. Nothing about Christmas is what prognosticators would predict. Everything got turned around.
At Christmas, eternal light broke forth to pierce unremitting darkness. The most astounding news ever proclaimed was announced to an unassuming audience of anonymous shepherds. The most royal birth in history was relegated to humility’s lowest damps and mucks. The omnipotent voice which spoke the universe into existence rested silently on that night within an unspeaking infant.
Yes, it’s possible. The mystery of Christmas arises as a singular illumination chasing away the shadows of misery that haunt human life. It stands against and overcomes the dark nights of our souls. It allows us to kindle sparks of hope, faith and love and fans them into flame.
Before becoming the renowned author of a beloved Christmas carol, the Rev. Edmund Sears was born in Sandisfield more than 200 years ago and spent his early years in its cold winter woodlands and winds. We cannot know for sure, but perhaps it was there in the Berkshire high country, on frozen silent nights, that he first perceived the mystery of Christmas and grasped in his soul how it forever vanquishes the darkness of our lives and brings everything into glorious light.
We do know that later in his life this son of the Berkshires wove the mystery of Christmas into timeless stanzas that the world still sings:
“It came upon the midnight clear; That glorious song of old; From angels bending near the earth; To touch their harps of gold.
“Peace on the earth, goodwill to men; From heaven’s all gracious King; The world in solemn stillness lay; To hear the angels sing…O rest beside the weary road; And hear the angels sing; And hear the angels sing.”
Sitting near a wood fire on a frozen winter night in the remote Berkshire woods, or wherever we may be, the glad truth of Christmas triumphs over all darkness. So this evening, let us light candles, kindle hearths, illuminate trees, porches, doors and eaves, and celebrate the glad truth today and always: Though darkness may hover near, it will never triumph. As spoken by the One whose birth we celebrate, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”