“Open 24 Hours a Day”
Pastor David Eisenhuth
“Open 24 hours a day” is a sign that is commonplace these days. One can shop at Walmart, eat at a diner, and get gas all at 3 a.m. Since I am usually fast asleep at that time I am not sure who actually is at Walmart so early in the morning. I have thought of getting up to investigate, but the call of my pillow has been all too strong. Don’t count on meeting me at the produce section of our 24/7 supermarket any time soon before noon.
I was ordained in June of 1981. My first call was to Zion Lutheran Church, in Frackville, Pennsylvania. Frackville is yet today a small town. It being 1981, the idea of businesses staying open 24 hours a day was unheard of. Even the Dutch Kitchen closed at 11 p.m. Several people at Trinity who have traveled I-81 towards the Poconos or New York State told me they have eaten at this diner. It opened very early in the morning but at 11 o’clock, hangers-on were encouraged none too subtly to finish their coffee and go home. By midnight, the town was quiet.
One business, however, did stay open through the night. That was the Hess gas station at the corner of Main Street and Center Avenue, the intersection at the very heart of town. Zion’s parsonage was just a block away from the gas station, but direct view of it was blocked by several buildings. My bathroom window looked at in the general direction of the service station and I could see the illumination of florescent lights shining brightly even in the middle of the night. Whether it was a clear night, foggy, rainy, or snowy those florescent lights broke the darkness of the night sky.
I took comfort in knowing that something was alive and stirring not too far from my house. I particularly remember one night after I returned from the hospital offering comfort to a family that had been in a bad accident. I looked out the bathroom window toward the gas station and had a sense of God’s presence shining even in the midst of the darkness I had just encountered. It was a clear night and the brightness of the station lights gave an otherworldly glow to the sky.
I wonder if the Magi on their way to see the infant Jesus felt the same way. While we don’t know very much about them—the Bible does not even give their number— we know the Christmas star played an important part in their story. Its appearance in the sky intrigued them. They may have been astrologers studying the stars and planets. They could have been interested in astrology, trying to interpret heavenly signs in relation to earth events. Maybe they were both. Whatever the case, the star sent them on a journey.
We don’t know where they came from, except scripture tells us they were from the East. It might have been as close as Persia or as distant as India or even China! Imagine, however, the difficulties they faced. They traversed unknown areas. They had to barter for provisions. The food was probably bad. Their campsites were often rudimentary. But most distressing of all was not knowing the destination. I cannot imagine leaving my home not knowing where I am going or how long I will be away.
Certainly doubt must have filled their minds at times. They may even have had a few arguments along the way. But the sole constant in their journey was a bright light that led the way. In their greatest moments of distress, that light shone out and guided them to the infant Jesus and his family.
Light is a central theme of the Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany cycle. The prophets predicted the coming of a great leader who would shine in the darkness of the world. Light shines over the Christmas crib. And we have that star guiding the Magi. Christmas is not meant to be a one-day-of-the-year event. We take the light with us and try to keep its light burning brightly.
One of the high points of Christmas Eve worship for me is watching the individual candles being lit. The flame starts at the Christmas Candle and is shared through the congregation until the church glows with that tender light. From one person to another, the small flame grows and grows. It is a reminder that Jesus shines forth in whatever circumstances we might find ourselves. It was the custom at one time to try to take the lit candle home. However, I doubt that worked very well. Now we extinguish them. But once kindled, the light cannot really be put out because it burns in our hearts with the knowledge that God has come in Jesus, our Christ.
On a personal note, I would like to tell you that I feel very welcome at Trinity Lutheran Church. From the staff to our leaders to all the people in the pews, I have a real sense that God has put us together for some great purpose. It remains for us to discern God’s will. But as I said, we have a great light which will illuminate our journey together. That light is Jesus himself.