By Tom Ehrich

Christmas Eve morning: a steady downpour in Manhattan.

Retailers are hoping, no doubt, that skies will clear by, say, 10:00am, in time for the final day of selling. Churches are willing to wait until, say, 5:00pm, but no less hopeful that months of work will reach an audience.

The weather forecast, of course, threatens both hopes: rain all day, possibly thunder, unseasonably warm temperature, a great day, yes, to stay indoors.

I sympathize. I grew up in a home where Christmas sales made or broke my father's business year. For two decades I served churches where Christmas Eve was not only a liturgical high point and family celebration, but a financial windfall.

I remember a Christmas Eve in the early 1980s in Indiana, when brutal cold and drifting snow were so bad that houses lost their heat (including mine), many churches canceled Christmas Eve services, and Interstate highways were closed.

We did hold a service. Few came. But one young man fought through drifts to drive home from upstate Indiana so that he could worship with his new church family. I'm not sure we had earned his devotion, but God certainly had touched his heart.

Those are the stories we listen for this time of year, when stress is high, finances seem weak, nights are long, and weather rarely cooperates. We listen for signs that God's light still shines brightly enough to touch and transform our lives.

We hear of German and British soldiers pausing their tragic trench warfare to observe the Birth of Jesus together. We hear of families welcoming strangers, and children carrying cookies to shut-ins, and a Pope calling the Church's entrenched Curia to account, and one random act of kindness after another.

No matter how deep the darkness, the light of Christ is brighter, and that light cannot be doused. Darkness tries, but God prevails.