This is the time of year when we are all looking for light. The days are at their shortest, the temperatures have dropped, and this year in particular we stay close to home (or at least confined indoors) more than we have probably ever been. Have you noticed how quickly people put up Christmas trees and outdoor decorations? We are all looking for light and cheer.
That is no surprise; it has been an incredibly difficult nine months since the pandemic struck New Jersey and then the rest of the country. Some of us have experienced the illness and death of people we love (whether from COVID or not), some of us have had our employment and income disrupted, we’ve been isolated from others to varying degrees, we’ve all had to learn to do our jobs and our lives differently than we’ve done them before.
And adding to the challenges have been an incredibly turbulent election season and renewed attention to the way our society understands and responds to questions of race, racism, and difference. It’s as if the pandemic had taken all the pieces that make up our life and thrown them into the air in the middle of a gale. All this leaves us feeling disoriented, off-kilter, fearful, and suffering at some level or another.
It’s no wonder people are looking for light and cheer and a bit of comfort.
The Gospel of John begins, not with a story, but with a proclamation that the God who created the world – all life, all matter, all being – has come into history and the human race; has come as life and light. “What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
That light is Jesus, born in a specific time and place, to a particular family, in a poor community, to a minor ethnic and religious group within a powerful trans-national empire. The Savior of humankind, the Lord of all creation, the Light of the world and eternity, born in such smallness, such meanness; as the medieval carol puts it, “heaven and earth in little space.”
And yet this tiny, inauspicious beginning did not diminish God’s light. The older King James translation uses the word “comprehend”, meaning understand, grasp, contain, encapsulate, overcome: “the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.” The Light of Christ was not overcome by the darkness that could neither understand nor contain him.
This is the Light we celebrate in the birth of Jesus, remembering that he did not remain a helpless infant but grew to adulthood, challenging the powers-that-be and taking upon himself the sufferings of the world before destroying death, the last enemy. It is no wonder that the darkness cannot comprehend and overcome the Light who is Christ.
At Christmas we celebrate Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, and we also celebrate the birth of Christ in our hearts and the coming of the Light into our lives – not just once at our baptism or confirmation, and not just on Sundays or whenever we formally worship God, but every day. The Light of Christ longs to live in us to guide us and to empower us to be beacons of God’s love in a dark world – “let every heart prepare him room.”
We are all looking for light, and comfort, and cheer, and celebration, and the cherished familiar – this year in particular. But if this Christmas we look for comfort only, we will miss God’s power for healing and for ministry. If we look for good cheer only, we will miss God’s hope. If we look only for a jolly celebration, we will miss true joy. If we look only for the familiar, we will miss God’s truth.
Humble, healing power; hope; joy; truth – this is the Good News, the Light of Christ which has come into our very midst, the Christmas that can live in our hearts every day. This is the gift that we can help bring to birth in our world as Jesus invites us, with him, to be the Light of the World. Amen.
Victoria Geer McGrath
All Saints’ Church, Millington, NJ
Christmas Eve 2020