Light in the Darkness

The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness did not overcome it.

Thank you for being here tonight as we celebrate the coming of this light amongst us, and for the whole world, this evening.

We celebrate Christmas in so many ways: every family has its own particular customs of doing things, every church its own pattern of Masses and offerings, every nation and community its own traditions.   But across this great globe on this Christmas night we might celebrate in so many different ways, but there is only one light, Jesus Christ, the Light of the World.  I it is to him, like those wise men from distant lands, that we come this evening, to worship and to adore; that we might glimpse his glory, the glory of the only Son of the Father, who is full of grace and truth.

I want to thank you for choosing to be here, to be part of this celebration, as we begin the tidal wave of celebrations that will spread around the world in the coming hours.  You are here friends, and the angels rejoice as they worship with us on this most holy night.  It has taken your time, your will, your energy, and in some cases, I know, your real courage to step through the door of this church, as so many others have done during the four Masses held here today, to catch a glimpse of this light, this glory this evening.

You have seen the burning bush like Moses in that ancient Exodus story and you have stepped towards it to have a closer look.  You have paused the conveyer belt of life so that you can truly be present in this moment,  Perhaps you have even walked through the dark, just as the shepherds did, answering the call of the carolling angels: and you are here; in the light.

The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness did not overcome it.

This evening you have brought your gift (not gold, or frankincense or myrrh as the wise men did, and I am not talking about what you are going to put in the collection plate either, although that is part of what we offer too).  No, much more importantly you have brought the finest gift that you can, the gift of your very self, together with all the ‘stuff’ that you carry with you, your motivations, your thoughts, the hopes and fears of all your years, as you come to meet the Christ child tonight.

You have brought who you really are – whether you have done that publicly or still in the secrecy of your heart (it matters not this evening, for God knows your every thought as you come to meet with him this evening),  and the gift of yourself is the greatest gift any of us has to offer him.  God delights that you are here, because God delights in you – the ‘you’ that you make public to others, and the ‘you’ that you think only you know about – God knows you, and he delights in you this evening as you bring yourself to worship before him.  In being here you have made a conscious decision to revel in, to participate in and to experience God’s light.

The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness did not overcome it.

But before we get too carried away with ourselves this evening, let’s remember that Christmas is not primarily about what we have done, it is about what God has done; because Christmas is the ultimate proof that it is not so much that we seek God, but that he seeks us.  God is not the precious pearl or the buried treasure that we spend a lifetime seeking, we are the precious pearl and the buried treasure that spend a lifetime being found by God.  The epic journey of the Magi, and the chaotic scrambling of the shepherds down the dark Bethlehem hillside are only possible because God has already made the leap from heaven to earth to come among them.  The first move is God’s: it always was, and it always will be – for them, for us, and for the whole creation.

That is what we have already been celebrating, as we have journeyed towards this moment like the Shepherds and the Magi – at Carols on the Hill last Friday evening, in our services at the nursing homes, in the home communions for those who are unable to be with us, with the animals and the children and the joyful noise this afternoon; and that is what we will continue to celebrate in the days ahead.

None of the joy of this light is dependent firstly on us, it is God’s initiative.  As Saint Paul’s says, and as we have already heard this evening, “the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all.”

The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness did not overcome it.

Our being here in church tonight is only possible because God has already got here ahead of us, reaching out to us.  Hear the words of Saint John once again, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us”.  Christmas is the ultimate confirmation, if we need it this evening, that God can find his way into anything and everything, and to everyone, and if we are alert to it, we can see the heart of what Christmas is about wherever we look.  For the heart of Christmas is – as we proclaimed at our Advent Service of Lessons and Carols a few weeks ago: ‘Emmanuel: God with us’.

The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness did not overcome it.

In every shiny Christmas bauble on the Christmas tree, in every glitzy reflective decoration, if we look closely, we can see the reflection of our own face – and it is a reflection of someone who is made in the image of God – a human being, the crown of God’s creation, in which he is pleased to dwell. “Pleased as man with man to dwell: Jesus our Emmanuel.”  And if we look a little deeper in that reflection, we see not only ourselves, but those around us, our little corner of God’s world.  We do not have to look beyond the material world to catch a glimpse of God’s light piercing the darkness: we can find those glimpses right here and right now, everywhere we look. For when God came to earth 2,000 years ago, he never left. Yes, if we look for him, we can see Christ even in the shiny stuff and in the trimmings; and even in the darkest corners of the world, God is already there.

The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness did not overcome it.

If you have ever been blessed with the miracle of someone forgiving you, or if you have been the recipient of an unearned or unasked-for act of kindness, or a much-needed word of comfort or guidance, then you already know something of what it means for that light to illumine your life.

If you have ever found the grace to offer those words, or that kindness, or that forgiveness, to someone else, then you know something of the energy of that light shining within you and beyond you to others.

And if you have ever sung ‘Be near me Lord Jesus, I ask thee to stay close by me for ever’ and meant every word, then you know something of the power and the comfort of that light at work in your life.

The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness did not overcome it.

But let’s not pretend that God is somehow boxed up here in this and every Church around the world.  God is wherever we find ourselves.  God is where the angels sing with joy, and we join in;  God is where it is dark, and difficult, and dangerous, and the sound of rejoicing is muted or faded or apparently not present at all.  What I am saying in rather a clumsy way, is that God is here with us this on this Christmas Night to remind us that he is also everywhere else this evening too.

He is in our prisons, he is in our hospitals, offering the light of his presence equally to both.  He is in every dark and dusty street in Aleppo and in every conflict zone on this battered world, yearning with us for wars to cease and mindless violence to end, and willing us to bring about change.  And God sits alongside every man, and woman and child who has been wounded and abused by the priests of his church, demanding that these acts of darkness be uncovered and brought into the light of justice.  For there is no place on earth that is too dark for the light of God to shine.

The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness did not overcome it.

Rejoice brothers and sisters this Christmas, rejoice in what God has done for us in Jesus. See the light.  Be the light.  Come, let us adore him!

Happy Christmas.