Light in the Darkness
The other day I was reading an article that described the depth of the darkness in the world today. Words like Ferguson, ISIS/ISIL, Ebola, Boko Haram filled our news this year. So did Murdered/Missing Indigenous Women in Canada and the Civil War in Syria. Some days it is difficult to be a person of hope.
So much darkness into which we need light to shine this year.
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who walk in a land of deep darkness – on them light has shined (Isaiah 9:2)
In some form those words have been a part of almost every Christmas Eve service I have led. Sometimes in a reading of Scripture, sometimes in a prayer, sometimes in a sermon or meditation. But they are a vital part of my understanding of Christmas. At Christmas we see a great light, a light that, as John's gospel tells us “shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it” (John 1:5).
On November 30th, the first Sunday of Advent (the church season in which we prepare for Christmas), I started my sermon with these words: “Christmas comes into the world as it is...the Christ Child comes, not into the world as we wish it was but the world as it is”. I think we forget that. I think we get drawn into the joyous carols and the frenzied preparations and forget why Christ came. Christ came to be light in the darkness, to transform the shadows into places where God's Kingdom would grow.
In that same worship service we sang my favourite Advent hymn. It is a strange hymn for a season everybody assumes would be joyful, because it is more than a little bit melancholy. It talks about the world being “full of darkness, again there is no room” and “for the nameless millions the star will never shine” and “there will be no tomorrows for many a baby born”. And then we sing it in a minor key to make it even more sombre sounding. Why do I like such a sad song so much?
In part it is a favourite because I remember it from my childhood (as often makes things a favourite part of the Christmas season). But also because it names the reality that Christmas comes, that Christ comes, into a broken world. Just look through the news headlines and you will find plenty of evidence of the darkness in the world.
As I sit here looking back at the year that is ending it strikes me how easy it would be to give up on hope. It would be easy to decide that the darkness is stronger and decide just to live watching out for myself. But then there is Christmas. But then there is this season where coloured lights multiply like crazy on houses and streets, this time when candles become a part of our decorating, this time when we sing about Good News for all and Peace on Earth. And something starts to glow again.
That hymn I talked about earlier is not all sorrow and darkness. It also reminds us that Christ is with us, that Christ is being born again, that God's purpose will be fulfilled. That is the promise of Christmas.
Yes the world can be a terribly dark place. Yes the shadows grow long and deep (and based on the past week, terribly cold). But here in the darkest part of the year we celebrate the coming of the Light. When the nights are the longest we proclaim that the Light of the world is being born in our midst.
John tells us that the Light which was in the beginning, the Light of Creation, the Light that shines in the darkness, can not be overcome. So even when the world seems to be one shadow after another, even when despair seems more realistic than hope, when fear seems stronger than love, where joy and peace are just words – not realities, even then the light is still shining somewhere.
Where do you see the light shining this year?
This Christmas season I encourage all of us to look for the light. Often we find it in surprising places. But we only find it if we look. Sometimes the light is a faint glimmer. Sometimes it is so bright we are struck with fear and awe. But it is always there. And when we find it may we once again hear the angel's words: “Fear not! For behold I bring you tidings of great joy which shall be for all people. For unto you is born a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord”
God bless us, every one.