Sermon for Christmas Day 2020
Hurstpierpoint College Chapel
“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness – on them light has shined” So speaks the Prophet Isaiah to the people almost three thousand years ago.
I had never experienced what it was really like to walk in darkness, until I walked a stretch of the Camino de Santiago in October last year. I had anticipated long, sunny days, but instead I spent a lot of time walking in darkness and in rain. I hadn’t appreciated that Spain’s coast is significantly west from where we are, yet it shares the Continental time zone. Hence, the first three hours walk every day I walked in darkness.
I would have certainly been surprised, if not terrified, if I had suddenly seen a great light. So I can imagine a little bit what the shepherds must have felt that night when they saw a great light, and probably even more so when they saw that in the light there was an angel. No matter how much the angel told them not to be afraid, that was probably exactly what they were.
This year has been characterised in so many ways by darkness too, and I suspect that in many ways we can identify with the people living in a land of deep darkness. In many ways, we can identify with the shepherds, whose lives were the same day after day, with not much to look forward to. Those of us who have been a fair few Nativity plays, will be able to emphasise with the shepherd exclaiming: ‘Nothing exciting ever happens to us!’
The light that the shepherds see that night is a turning point for them. They don’t dismiss what they have seen as a dream, nor do they keep it as a story to themselves, but instead, they get up and go. They take action, and it changes their lives. Yes, they go back to shepherding, but I don’t think that they will ever need to complain again about the lack of excitement. I wonder what the equivalent of this event is for us, today? I wonder if we, in the darkness of this time, have had moments of great light and clarity; moments that have changed the course of our lives in these last few months?
As so many of the busyness of our lives has been taken away, have we tried to fill it with other distractions? Or have we dared to become more attentive, more grateful for the small things, more attuned to those moments of light that are all around us? That is of course not to say that there are things we miss and are looking forward to again: seeing family, friends, travelling and – not to forget – singing. But yet, in the imposed dullness, we have also been given an opportunity. The opportunity to be like those shepherds, waiting at night and recognising the light when it comes.
Maybe, if we haven’t felt like this yet, it is something we may like to try. Tomorrow, we will move into Tier 4 and will face more time in which we cannot resume our normal day-to-day life. Maybe we can make some time to imagine ourselves to be those shepherds, just watching and waiting. The only difference for us is that we already know the end of the story: that God decided to live among us, the event we celebrate today on Christmas Day.
Therefore, this morning, I would like to give you a little gift as we go out. It is nothing special, just a little candle. Maybe over the next few days, when it is dark and life feels dull, light it. And imagine yourself to be one of those shepherds in the field, watching and waiting, but this time not waiting for the light, but waiting with the light. Because that is what Christmas means: the Light is in the world for us to see and to find.