Betty and Joe lived in the hill country, far from any towns and cities, in a small, poor village. They lived a simple life with their mum and dad who grew oats and apples and made all sorts of things out of wood to sell at markets in the towns far away.
But their village was under threat. A strange darkness had gripped it ever since an old man called Benedict had died. He was a wonderful man, full of love and warmth, who spent his life helping others who were in need of anything; someone to talk to, something to eat, something to wear, wise advice for difficult times. After his death, the villagers had slowly forgotten about Benedict and the strange darkness had grown. It was a darkness in people’s hearts, words, and actions. They spoke angrily and bitterly to each other, they stole what few possessions and little food they had from each other, and they fought over small things too. Even the sun rarely shone.
Betty and Joe felt this darkness too. Yet they fought against it with all their hearts. One day, they were both woken early by a cold wind that seeped through the cracks around the windows of their room. It was still dark as they ate their porridge, but as the light grew they saw that the wind had brought with it snow. And lots of it. Both their faces lit up with excitement and they rushed to put on their thickest jumpers and jackets before waving to mum and dad and running off into the fresh white, powdery snow.
First they played snowballs, aiming at each other, until they both had taken one too many in the face! And then they aimed at any old target they could find in the village– a wall, a lamppost, a sign…until their joy was snuffed out by an angry shout, ‘Oi you two! Get away, we don’t want kids playing round here’. Joe and Betty jumped at the fierce voice, and then ran. Up the hill they ran, past all the houses and out of the village. When they finally ran out of breath they slowed to a walk and trudged through the snow, up an old lane where some houses once stood that led into the hills. Everything looked different with a thick covering of snow and even though it was still quite dark, they enjoyed talking about how pretty things looked with their new white icing–like layer on top.
After a while, they were some way out of the town and into the hills. The lane passed through a wooded area with tall pine trees growing closely together. But then, through the trees, Joe spotted an old building. ‘Come on Betty, let’s explore…’ and they ran off to find a way in. As they pushed branches aside and came closer to the building, they could see that it was an old church. Some of it’s windows were broken and the stone bricks covered in moss and ivy. But it’s large, heavy, wooden front door was ever so slightly open. ‘Hey on Joe, shall we go inside’ Betty suggested with a glint in her eye. Cautiously, they opened the door wide enough for them to slip through. It was cold and damp and it all looked shabby and uncared for. But it felt somehow different to their village, somehow not so dark.
Outside, the snow had stopped falling and the clouds were not so thick. Betty and Joe walked slowly into the old church, looking around at the stained glass windows, many of which were broken, and at the bronze candle holders that were dusty and dull. Then as they reached the front of the church, where there was a rail, some cushions and a large table with more dusty candle holders, a gap appeared in clouds outside, and the sun, which was just rising, shone brightly and cast a beautiful orange, red and yellowy glow through the door that they had left open. Joe and Betty turned to see the opposite wall bathed in the warm colours. They stared, almost transfixed as the narrow shaft of light travelled through the church; further in and higher up as the sun rose. Then their gaze was drawn to a box. A plain wooden box, dusty and dirty like everything else but with the same warm light seeping out from the edges of it’s lid and it’s sides where the wooden panels no longer quite fitted. ‘Wow’ they said to each other, ‘What could it be?’, they asked each other as they knelt beside it. ‘I wonder what’s inside?’ said Betty, ’Should we open it?’
What do you think they should do? What do you think is inside?
The two of them, brother and sister, held each other with one hand, and each put the other hand on the lid of the box. Together they opened it and the light shone out with such intensity that they had to close their eyes and they fell backwards. But the light felt so good! And for the first time in years they felt joy in their hearts. They realised that the darkness they had felt had been chased away and they felt lighter and happier and free. Together, they bravely reached inside the box, through the almost blinding light to see if there was anything inside. And sure enough, there was; a hat, a pair of shoes and gloves and a small book, a bible. As Joe flicked through the pages of the bible, a piece of paper fell out and on it was some writing, ‘Remember, my friends, The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. John 1. Remember the light. You who read this note must remind the people of the light.’ It was signed, ‘Benedict’
Even though they didn’t fully understand it all, they knew what they had to do. Joe and Betty put the gloves, shoes, hat and Bible back into the box, picked it up and ran. They ran back through the pine trees, and down that long lane, their small feet sinking into the snow with each step but their bodies feeling strong and fast and full of light. Back into the village they ran, shouting with excitement. They put the box down in the middle square of the village and picked up some snow. Snow which they made into snowballs and threw at every house they could. Angry voices shouted back at them but this time they carried on throwing the snow balls until the people came out of their houses and into the square and when the square was full of people shouting at them and at each other they knelt by the box and once again, hand in hand, they lifted the lid. And the light shone out! Radiating off their faces, lighting up the grey buildings, throwing warmth and light onto the faces of the angry and bitter people; melting their cold hearts with it’s love.
The shouting died down, men and women, boys and girls all stopped still. Some sank to the ground. And when it was quiet enough to be heard, the two of them took out their treasure and read the note aloud, ‘Remember, my friends, The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. Remember the light. You who read this note must remind the people of the light. John 1. It’s from someone called Benedict!’
That name seemed to send shockwaves through many of the villagers as they remembered. As they remembered what it was like to love and to be loved; as they remembered what it felt like to have ‘light’ inside them. The light was chasing away the darkness from within them.
By now, the sun was fully up and there were large blue pieces of sky between the clouds. From somewhere in the crowd, a snowball flew through the air and hit a sign, spraying a fine snow shower. But instead of angry shouts, laughter broke out among them and before long there was a fight, but not a angry fight, a fun–filled, light–hearted snowball fight in the glow of Benedict’s box.
I wonder who this story reminds you of?
I wonder what you think it has to say to us, to you?
(Let’s close our eyes.) The Christmas story is about the light of the world, Jesus, coming to our world to chase away and beat the darkness to bring us peace in our hearts and lives. How can you share peace and love with people around you?
Dear God, thank you for sending Jesus, the true light, to shine in the darkness. Please help us to shine love, peace and light in dark places too. Amen
by Rachel Andrew CC license