Saturday, December 30, 2006

December 26, 2006 - Light in Darkness

"The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light..." (Isaiah 9:2) Those words have always given me a thrill on Christmas Eve.. There's something about that primal image of light in the midst of darkness that emboldens the human soul.

These are the words I chose, this year, as the basis of my Christmas Eve sermon. It's a different crowd I preach to, on Christmas Eve. Most preachers find this to be true. A good many of our Sunday-morning regulars are on the road, visiting friends and family for the holidays. Many of the others who show up are the "C and E" people (that's "Christmas and Easter," for the uninitiated). I've been at this church long enough, now – sixteen years – that I know a great many of them, by sight if not by name.

As I was thinking about what to preach to this very different congregation, I realized many of my listeners would not be up on the details of my medical situation. Some of them might not know I'm in remission. So, I decided to include a brief medical update in the early part of my sermon. This is what I said:

"If you'll allow me a few moments to speak personally, it's a special joy for me to be here, this Christmas – because last year, at this time, I wasn't entirely sure I would be. Just over a year ago, I learned of my cancer diagnosis – Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma. By the time Christmas Eve rolled around, I'd learned just enough about the disease to know I had a tough road ahead. Chemotherapy was in my future, and I'd heard all the horror stories, and then some.

Most cancer survivors will tell you that the time right after diagnosis is the darkest time. One year ago, I was right in the midst of all that, trying to bring a Christmas Eve message of light and peace and joy. Last Christmas, if truth be told, I felt more like those people of whom the prophet Isaiah speaks: the ones who walk in darkness.

This Christmas, praise God, my treatments are all behind me. I'm still in remission, with every hope that good health will continue for a very long time. I've learned a few things, since last Christmas, about faith – the same sort of things Paul had learned, I suppose, by the time he wrote these words to his friends at Philippi:

‘I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.' [Philippians 4:11b-13]

‘The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.' I wonder if you or I ever truly understand what a marvel light is. You know, not even the scientists have figured it out. They've sought to understand light, at its most basic level, and they've come up empty. One of the greatest debates in twentieth-century physics was whether light is, fundamentally, a particle or a wave. Then, the strange new field of quantum mechanics opened up, and word finally trickled back from those investigations: light is both – and neither. There's one thing about light I do know: you've got to be in darkness, yourself, before you fully appreciate it. You can't do a whole lot of stargazing under the streetlights of a shopping-mall parking lot."

Lots of people – including a great many in our Christmas Eve crowd – have been doing just that, in recent weeks. They've tried to snatch a few moments, amidst the holiday madness, to glimpse a star or two. Yet, in this consumer culture, the places where most of us spend our nights simply aren't dark enough to catch sight of the one, true star.

The personal darkness that comes with a cancer diagnosis does provide a certain clarity of spiritual vision. I wouldn't wish the experience on anyone, of course, but it does offer that small side-benefit. The message I have for anyone else who's traveling the road of serious illness is this: Watch for the light. Truly, it is there.

1 comment:

Omachka said...

Hello Carl, I wanted to take time to tell you that this post is wonderfully comforting. My husband has just finished radiation and chemo therapy for nasopharyngeal cancer. He has had his first post-treatment CT scan and we are in "waiting mode" right now to find out the results. Your blog is wonderful and I want to thank you for taking the time to write about your experiences. It is so helpful to know we aren't alone and that others have not only gone through this but have survived it.