In that vast darkness, a tiny light
December 22, 2021
Grace Episcopal Church (Nampa, Idaho)
There was a skiff of snow this morning. Perfect hunting weather. On a day like this my father would take his rifle from the gun cabinet, put three shells from a well-worn cartridge box in his pocket, and set out into the hills and mountains above our ranch house. Sometimes he walked. Sometimes he went horseback. Almost always he came home successful. And when all was said and done, he would put his rifle safely away and return two shells to the cartridge box. My father loved hunting, and hated killing, but his skill, which we took for granted, provided food for our table.
Hunting was an integral part of our life, but even more important, I think, were stories about hunting. I think the stories told around our dinner table about the challenge, the disappointments, the victories, the adventure of it all, nurtured and nourished us even more than the venison on the table. They connected us to one another and the world around us in a profound and powerful way, exposing the holy and transcendent in all that was everyday and ordinary.
As I look at this Advent snow and remember sitting at that long ago table, one story stands out.
Our friend, Don Witt, had come to visit. It was hunting season, so that meant he had come to hunt. It was late in the day, however, before they could leave, so it wasn’t surprising that it was quite dark when Don returned to the ranch. My father had killed an elk, but since they were walking and several miles from home, Don had come to get my brothers and the pick-up. They drove up into the fields to the base of the mountain where my father was waiting. It should have been simple, but Don, as he was driving back, realized that he hadn’t paid close attention to just where on the mountain, my father was. It was a dark night and the mountain in front of him was an even darker monolith rising to obscure half the sky.
“There I was, in the darkness,” I remember Don saying. “There I was…couldn’t see anything. Only that black mountain, way bigger than I remembered. . .And I’m thinking, “How will I ever find him? Where do I even start?” He paused, in the telling of the story and looked at each of us as though waiting for answers. “Then,” he continued, “As I’m trying to work it out, your dad lights a match! A match! He didn’t say a word! He didn’t yell out. No! He lit a match!!”
My father, sitting at the table in the place he always sat, smiled ever so slightly. “Well,” he said softly, “It worked, didn’t it?” Don just shook his head. “A match,” he said, “a tiny little match. Looking at all of us, he shook his head, laughing, “He lit a match!”
In that vast darkness, a tiny light. A tiny light; all that was needful, all that was necessary, all that made the next step possible. I wonder, as I contemplate other stories of Advent, if this isn’t the truth God would have us know as we prepare for the coming of Christ. Maybe we are looking for more than we need. Maybe our over blown expectations blind us to the reality of what God has set before us. Maybe we have dismissed the everyday and ordinary, yearning instead for some kind of stand-alone transcendence. We want magic, I suspect, floodlights from heaven, rather than mystery, the transforming light of a tiny match. We forget, I suspect, that we are waiting, not for legions from heaven, but for the birth of a baby. . .in a barn!
Now there’s a story!