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These words echo through the centuries – The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
We don’t recognize the light of course without recognizing darkness. I wonder if there has ever been a time in your life when you didn’t feel like celebrating Christmas. You couldn’t face it. Maybe it’s because of much of the manufactured happiness that so often surrounds the holiday, the running around, the making ourselves frazzled. Maybe it’s because of a loss you had suffered or you had moved to a new town where you didn’t really know very many people or maybe anyone at all. We found ourselves on our own in some way. We said to ourselves “I just don’t know if I can face Christmas.”
Maybe we’re feeling something of that this year. We’re all tired of it and missing things. I’ve said that if I hear someone say “in the midst of a pandemic” one more time I’m going to throw something at the tv (if I were prone to such behaviour 😊).
I don’t know how you feel about putting decorations up early, many people complain every year about Christmas displays being up before Remembrance Day or hearing songs like Donny Hathaway’s “This Christmas” in the middle of November. Let us not think of such vexations though on this night of all nights. This year, I think there was some good advice out there. Experts were saying that we should put up decorations and lights early, in light of the lockdown that we’re in. They were saying that this would be good for our morale and our overall mental health. Action would cause a reaction. I don’t think it’s by accident that so many holidays and festivals which celebrate light happen during a time when, for those of us in the northern hemisphere anyway, the days are shortest, light is most lacking. It gets us outside of ourselves in a way I think, this literal/symbolic dispelling of darkness.
So I set a new record for myself and had these lights going in a planter on our front porch by November 20th. “Not bad!” I thought if I did say so myself. I don’t have the time or inclination for Griswoldian Christmas displays and it suited us just fine.
Down through the centuries, these words echo – The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
John in the opening of his gospel takes us well outside of ourselves. He takes us back to the beginning. In the beginning. We can’t help but be reminded of Genesis here. God spoke. The cosmos was formed. God said “Let there be light” and God separated the light from the darkness. “Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters,” God said, and it was so and God called the dome Sky and so on and so on until God says “Let us make humankind in our own image” and it is so. Just like actions, words can affect things. It’s known as performative speech. We’re all familiar with this of course. Someone has said “Words matter” and I believe that deeply. Words also have the capacity to bring something into being. We know this from hearing words like “I love you” or “You’re fired” or…
Words matter. In the beginning, was the Word and the Word was with God and Word was God. To some in John’s day, “word” signified “Wisdom”. The same wisdom that is described as being with God when he marked out the foundations of the earth, beside him, like a master worker, daily his delight, rejoicing before him always, rejoicing in the inhabited world and delighting in the human race. To others, “word” meant the thing through which everything makes sense, the thing that gives everything meaning. The foundational thing in which we place our faith.
Our hope, our peace, our joy, our love.
Our Christ. “The word became flesh and lived among us. What has come into being in him was life and the life was the light of all people and God is life and God is light.”
“The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.” When we hear those words, need we still ask how can we celebrate Christmas this year? We’re not Pollyannas. I hope we’re not. I hope we don’t walk around like everything is fine. We’re not Chicken Littles either. I hope we’re not walking around with the message that the sky is falling (either in our words or in our expressions). To walk in the light of Christ is to look squarely at reality in the light of Christ. To recognize light is to recognize darkness. Both in our world and in ourselves. An event remains only an event until one reacts to it, after all. John recognizes this too of course. He came into his own and his own received him not. We are called to take an honest look at how Christ is not received in the world and what the results are. We are called to take an honest look at how Christ is not received by us and what the results are. We do so knowing that in Christ it’s not so much about separating light from darkness, but about darkness being dispelled.
No wonder we light candles. “The true light, which enlightens everyone was coming into the world.” There is a Chinese proverb which goes “It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.” I like that. In Christ, a candle has been lit. This passage and this night is not only about Christ’s birth, but everything he was and is and will be and did and does and will do. In Christ, a candle has been lit. The curse of sin and death has been lifted. It’s no longer about separating light from darkness as much as it is about the light of Christ dispelling darkness – dispelling our darkness by the grace which we have received, grace upon grace.
An event remains only an event until we react to it. God is in our midst – let that be the way we remember the word “midst” this year. The light is in our midst. Christ is in our midst. The Holy Spirit is in our midst.
Actions can change things. Actions can bring about new situations. Words can change things. Words can bring about new situations. I’m going to keep those lights on the porch going for a while to remind me in these short days, that one day we will know a city that has no need of sun or moon to shine on it because the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the lamb.
My friends, this night light a candle against the darkness in holy defiance, knowing we have received grace upon grace. Let this action be our response to the coming of Emmanuel, God with us. Say these words as you light your candle – “The light of the world.” As we do may we come to an ever-greater understanding, with the Spirit of Christ in us teaching us, reminding us of Christ’s words to his followers – “You are the light of the world.” May this Christmas not only be a time of celebration of the light but one in which we embrace the call to make the light known with the very compassion of Christ in us.
Let us walk as children of the light dear friends.