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

Written by Emily Essex, posted on Monday, December 23, 2019

As a child, I never thought much about the dark. Well, that's not strictly true. I thought a lot about how scary it was, how much of it there was, I wondered whether the darkness hid the monsters in it, or whether the dark was a monster in itself. But I never thought much about what darkness was, how it behaved, what happened to it when my parents came to switch the lights back on.

There is something fascinating about darkness, in part because it creates pockets of mystery. In true darkness I have no idea what is around me, my surroundings, my company, even my own person become unknown to me for a moment. In part, that is why we find it so scary.

But for all the terror of monsters, or things that might sneak up on us, when I think about it, darkness is not very powerful. No matter how deep the darkness, it is never able to extinguish a light. There was never any struggle, when my light went back on, where the darkness fought to keep its hold on me. Even a single flickering flame doesn’t falter because of the darkness around it.

In fact, the only power darkness has is in the space granted it by an absence of light. When the light comes, the darkness retreats. We can see things as they actually are.

Candle in Christ Church Cathedral - photograph by Emily EssexWhen the light comes, the darkness is defeated.

This is a time of year where everything seems against us: the days are too short for our to-do lists, it feels as if it’s been raining for months. We look around us and we see the ravages of climate change, the frenzy of the general election and the sense of divisiveness that recent politics has wrought in our society. This year the winter seems darker than ever.

I think that it’s no coincidence that Christmas has become such a focal point in the midst of winter.

Christmas represents the birth of our hope as Christians: the light shining in the darkness. It’s a message we often desperately need to hear.

The darkness can feel overwhelming, can exacerbate our hurts and fears until we no longer feel able to tell if we are running from monsters or frightened of shadows. This time of year is hard. Christmas is hard when you feel dislocated from the joy and celebration.

But because Christmas is not all about feeling cheerful, or pretending we’re not hurt or afraid, I think that’s okay. Christmas is about hope, about recognising that even the deepest darkness is no longer impenetrable because the light has come. Light is the first notes of the trumpets of salvation, the light will prevail, the darkness will be quenched. We can say, even when we don’t feel it, that hope has come to us.

The difficulty of winter becomes part of our tapestry of hope.

Christ comes to meet us, not ‘in the form of God’, but as one of us; he comes, not as a king in a palace, but as a baby in a manger. Poor, fragile, human. Human life now woven into God’s life.

And for us, preparing to meet Christ afresh this Christmas, he comes to us in the depths of winter, a light that shines amidst the darkness. A beacon of hope for our salvation. A light to lighten the darkness in which we live.

The special thing about hope is that it points beyond the ‘now’. Hope does not claim that everything’s fine now, that we have nothing to worry about. Hope points us to the future, a better future than the present we experience. Something which is coming to change our present pain. And yet hope changes our relationship with the struggles we are facing - present tense - completely. A person with hope can endure almost infinitely more than a person without it. Something is changed when we discover that we have hope, something in us is transformed.

The promise of Christmas is very much like that: a reminder that the world was changed forever by the birth of this little child, a promise that the future will be better than this. That the same Jesus Christ will be coming back.

All things will be made new, salvation has been set in motion, but it’s not complete yet. The promise of Christmas is still working itself out in the hearts of each of us. The light that shines in the darkness has come, the darkness is being banished, but the work is not yet over. Begun but not finished. In process, in motion. We celebrate Christmas every year, not just to remember something that happened but to re-establish it in our hearts and minds, this thing which is still happening.

Darkness has no power to extinguish even the faintest of lights, but we can fan a single flame into a roaring fire. We can spread this light by embracing it, by becoming lights ourselves: the lights of the world.

Christ is the light that shines in the darkness, the true light that has come to enlighten all people. We can approach it, embrace it, set ourselves alight with it, and shine hope into the lives of anyone who is seeking it. That is what Christmas calls us to: to embody the hope we have in Christ, that others might find it for themselves.

And when we light candles this Christmas, switch on fairy lights, burn our advent candles one last time, this is the light we should remember. The light which came as a tiny baby in the heart of winter, the light which came to give us hope. The shining beacon of our salvation in whose light the darkness around us loses it’s grip, just a little, as we remember where we are going and who is returning to meet us, and that all these things which hurt and haunt us are being made new.

Happy Christmas, dear reader, and may it be blessed with light and hope.