Who among us, I wonder, is afraid of the dark?…
All of us I suspect. For if we are not afraid of actual physical darkness, then we are prone to fear the darkness of so much in our world, and in ourselves: the darkness of the unknown, the darkness of loss and separation, the darkness of pain, the darkness of death. So as we gather here today, we bring such darkness with us and we also share the darkness of our wider world.
Christmas, of course, like Easter, begins in darkness, which is why we perhaps spend so much time trying to avoid that darkness: putting up lights etc, which, wonderful though they are, can be but veils over our sadness, our separations and our sufferings…
After all, though we are sometimes tempted to forget it, Mary did not give birth to a stained glass window. Nor did mary give birth to a book, even though some Christians may sometimes give that impression. For we are not saved by anything created, even by a great book. It would be handy if we were. For a book, usually, has a series of chapter headings, a clear beginning and end. It is complete in itself. But God in Christ does not save us through a book, even the set of books we call the Bible. The Bible is wonderful, full of grace and mystery. Without it we would not know much about Jesus. Yet, like a stained glass window, it is still only an icon: a pointer to the light, a vehicle of the light, but not the light itself. It is still a creation and it can obscured in darkness. It is not the uncreated light which we receive at Christmas. It can bear certain words of God to us but it not the eternal Word of God. For the eternal Word which was born in Mary is beyond all words. The eternal Word dwells in the darkness and the darkness cannot ever overcome it. As in the creation of all things, so in our redemption, or re-creation, the eternal Word gives life out of the womb of darkness.
All of which is really, really, good news for our troubled world today. For if God only belongs in a stained glass window, or in any other creation of the Church, then we have no hope. Windows and churches can be smashed, as they have been throughout Christian history, and as they are today, in some parts of the world, even as I speak. And if God only belongs in a book, even in the Bible, then we also have no hope. Books and bibles can also be burned, as they are have been throughout Christian history, and as they are today, in some places, even as we meet. Yet nothing can ever destroy the eternal Word of God. For darkness can destroy pointers and vehicles of the light. Yet it can never, ultimately, overcome the light itself.
So will we settle for Jesus and Mary in a stained glass window, or in a book, or in carols, or cribs, or christmas lights, or whatever else is a reflection of the eternal Light? Or will we trust the eternal Word itself, the eternal Light, born in Jesus in the womb of darkness?
I read recently some typically fabulously evocative words of John O’Donohue. Writing about ‘Divine Beauty’, he described darkness as ‘the (ancient) birth-source from which everything emerges... the canvas upon which beauty appears.’ Ponder that for a moment. ‘Darkness is the birth-source from which everything emerges... the canvas upon which beauty appears.’ How amazing is that? For out of darkness comes the light of our salvation: the light of our new beginnings which stream like rainbows from that womb of eternal joy.
Recently, in one of their most beautiful songs, the contemporary American acapella group Pentatonix ask a question of the mother of Jesus, whether she was aware of what her child would become. ‘Mary’, they ask, ‘Did You Know?’ Of course, the answer is no, she did not know, at least beyond a glimmer. None of us knows how our lives and our world will turn out. All of us have to face various darknesses along the way, just as Mary did in her journey with Jesus. That is the point of Pentatonix’ song. Mary and Joseph did not see all the light, all the rainbow of colours which Jesus would bring. Like us, they were surrounded by darkness and no doubt felt it in their hearts from time to time. Yet the light they saw was enough. So too, the light is there for us, if we can but trust it. It may not always seem very bright. Perhaps the light may appear to be but a mere twinkle, or a candle seemingly blowing in the wind. Yet is is enough. If we have faith as small as a mustard seed, Jesus said, it is enough. If we have but a glimpse of the light, it is enough.
Surrounded by our own darkness, we are like Mary and Joseph. We do not know what the light of Christ may become for us. We too may fear for that light in the face of the powers and terrors of our lives and world. We too may still walk in darkness. Yet in Christ we can see a great light. If we trust in that light even the darkness can be our friend. Like Mary herself, it can become a birth-source of beauty, the bearer of the rainbow of resurrection. So may we hear the question to Mary again, and, as we do, let us ask ourselves, do we know what we shall become if we but hold the light tonight, if we have faith in the rainbow of the future, if we trust the creative Word in the womb of darkness?
play Pentatonix song to finish…