The Light shines in the Darkness

Sermon for the first Eucharist of Christmas
Hurstpierpoint College Chapel

A couple of years ago I was speaking to a colleague from Albania. He had come to the UK in the late nineties fleeing the civil conflict at the time. Remembering the continuous threats and fear of his home country, as he arrived here, he could not believe that people here got upset if they didn’t have enough milk in their tea or if the post arrived a day late. However, after a couple of years in safety and security, he noticed how he too got bothered by the trivialities of daily life.

I was reminded of this conversation when reflecting on the year past. On a personal, national and international level, our conversations have been dominated by COVID-19. For all of us, the pandemic has brought a darkness and dullness to our lives, which we could not have imagined a year ago and this has dominated our thinking and our speaking. As many of us have asked ourselves: what did we talk about before COVID? Ok, apart from Brexit and Trump …

I am sure, therefore, that I am not the only one who hears the words from the Prophet Isaiah tonight in that context: “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation.”

Are we not all looking forward to someone who brings good news? Are not most of us clinging on to the news of a vaccine? Waiting for the numbers of infections, hospital admissions and deaths to go down? Waiting until we can resume all those things we took for granted only a year ago? Looking forward in hope has certainly been one of my frequent trains of thought in the past year.

But then, after the prophecy of Isaiah, we hear the proclamation of St John: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness will not overcome it.” It does not say, ‘the light shone in the darkness’, nor ‘the light will shine in the darkness’, but it states: ‘the light shines in the darkness’. This is not just a promise for the future, nor only something that happened long ago, but it speaks too about the here and now, it speaks about all time and eternity. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness will not overcome it.

In this most holy night, we do not celebrate a promise, but a reality: the fulfilment of God’s promise. We celebrate that God’s eternal Word became flesh and lived among us. As some theologians have said, this is the moment when God shares in our humanity, so that we can share in his divinity.

That does not mean that we suddenly have super-powers, but maybe rather the opposite. It means that we have been shown that in our vulnerability lies our strength; that we no longer have to look to the future – or the past – but that we can see the Light all around us now.

It is a bit like being outside on a clear, dark night, when after long enough, you can see an uncountable number of stars and you can’t believe that you hadn’t seen them before. Suddenly you realise that there is so much light around you, if only you take long enough to look attentively. Yes, there is a lot you cannot see at night, but there are definitely things you can only see when everything else seems pitch-black, and their beauty is no less.

It may not be a bad analogy for this time of darkness in our lives. Yes, we all look forward to the brightness of a different live, but in the meantime, we have seen moments of light that we would have missed otherwise, which would have been obscured by the ‘light-pollution’ around us.

Maybe this pandemic has not let our eyes grow dull, but rather the opposite. Maybe to us is given the gift of seeing light where we did not before. Maybe we are more ready than ever to receive the gift of this Holy Night: the Light shining in the darkness. Not only the promise, but the reality that the light is all around us: no matter how dark it seems, the darkness will not overcome it.

The invitation to us, then, this Christmas maybe more so than ever, is to be attentive to the light in our darkness. Despite the undeniable difficulties that we face, there is also an opportunity in the darkness and the stillness. Maybe the gift of this time is an invitation to accept the lives we have been given, with all our limitations, but also all our potential; the lives often so full of pain, but also so full of joy. The life we share with one another, and the life that God chose to share with us this night.

If we dare to take up that invitation, then I am confident that with John we too can say that we will see his glory, full of grace and truth.

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