Christmas Message, 2020 | Part 1 | Part 2

“The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” John 1:5

Dear friends

Each year about this time I begin to reflect on what I might preach about at our annual Christmas Eve services here in the Parish of the Heart of Hastings. It has been a tradition of mine (but perhaps now more of a habit) to preach from the Gospel of Luke. This evangelist has woven an incredible story with but a few characters: Mary and Joseph who make a long trek from Nazareth to Bethlehem where Mary gives birth to Jesus in a manger within a stable because “there was no room for them in the inn.” I love the apparent simplicity of Luke’s narrative in which the author paints a memorable image of this event in only seven verses. Two thousand years later, these few verses continue to inspire in our lives, a renewed hope for the human race.

◦ But this year our lives are different. Last year at this time no one had ever heard of COVID 19. Nine months ago this virus was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization and it seems to continue to be the lead story in the daily newscast. To paraphrase a poem by W.H. Auden; COVID 19 is more than a virus now: it is a whole climate of opinion.

In addition to the ever constant update on the progress of the virus there is something else that has been much on my mind these last couple of weeks. I have been noticing how daylight seems to be seeping away into darkness in the late afternoon. By four o’clock it is getting dark and in a few days (December 21) we will experience the darkest day of the year. The amount of light or darkness we experience, especially for those of us living here in the country, is something we just notice. And so it is, with both the Virus and the theme of light and darkness in mind, I want to frame the Christmas story for 2020.

In Luke’s rendering of the birth of the Christ child he never mentions light and only hints at darkness: “the glory of the Lord shone around them” and “the shepherds kept watch over their flock by night.” Unlike Luke, however, the evangelist John in the opening of his gospel, almost fixates on the theme of light. In the first nine verses of John’s gospel, the author uses the word light no fewer than seven times! In verse five, the only verse to mention darkness, he boldly claims that darkness did not, cannot, will not, ever, overcome the light (of Christ).

When John put pen to paper (or perhaps quill to papyrus), he chose to begin his gospel drama by paraphrasing the Creation story in Genesis. You see, for the evangelist John, the entering of the Christ child into the world was a wholly, new creation; so momentous, so earth shattering that there was no other or better way to describe the importance of this event than by borrowing his theme from the words of the first chapter of the Book of Genesis itself. If we examine those first few verses of Genesis, as John likely did, we discover something else that might help us to understand why light, for the evangelist John, is a theme which seems to lie at the very heart of the good news of his gospel. John has mirrored the Genesis creation story in his account of the beginning of the Christ story for good reason. In verse one of the first chapter of Genesis the author sets out to tell the story of creation. In verse two the earth is said to be in darkness. In verse three the change begins: “ And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.” Creation begins, according to the Book of Genesis - when God speaks, and when this happens light appears. Light begins the act and story of Creation. The evangelist John is claiming that as Christ entered the world, God set in motion a new Creation, a fresh “starting over” of God’s creation. John could not conceive of a better way to describe the significance of Jesus’ birth than this.

This year, I think the power and majesty of John’s gospel speaks to us in new and comforting ways this Christmas time. In the seemingly slow season of pandemic, and as darkness seems, in so many ways, to have the upper hand in our time, John’s calm assurance that while, try as it might, darkness did not, nor cannot and will not, put out that light. Light was the very vehicle by which God chose to begin God’s conversation, relationship and friendship with you and me and the rest of God’s creation.

Finally, a word of hope about the degree of darkness which seems to be so pervasive these days. The parables of Jesus remind us that life surprises us daily and the kingdom of God is ushered in, slowly by little things, all too often by events that go unnoticed and by those whom we would never expect to be the chosen vehicles of God’s good news. The hope of the Incarnation (the birth of the Christ child) is that in Christ there is a new creation, a starting over, a fresh start for all of God’s creation. Bit by bit, a little light seems to penetrate the deepest darkness in life. We want fiery flames of faith but seem to forget that fire is sometimes ignited by the tiniest of sparks.

Christmas may begin in the darkest of seasons but it is known also as the season of light. May it be our common hope, that as we gather in our homes or at Church this Christmas, our faith might reignite a light to dispel the darkness whether in our hearts, our communities or in the world.

The blessings of this Christmas season

Canon Bob

Serving Christ’s mission through compassionate service, intelligent faith, and godly worship.