The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it. - John 1:1-6; 9-14
What is the good of light without some darkness to stick it in? - Arlo Guthrie
No one knows when Jesus was born. Reworking the Roman celebration of Saturnalia, the early church chose to celebrate Christmas in the bleak midwinter. Whether they intended it or not, it is appropriate to celebrate the Incarnation at the darkest time of year, if you think about it. Jesus is the Word, and the Word is the Light of the world, shining through the darkness of the long night and pointing us toward the time when all will be light in the presence of God.
"The Word became flesh and lived among us." Or, a more literal translation: "The Word became flesh and pitched its tent with us." And where God's Word lives, there is light. And darkness can never overcome light.
Those of us who live in the Northern Hemisphere, celebrate the incarnation during the darkest time of the year. The birth of Mary's baby reminds us that the Light has come, is coming into our world.
This year, maybe more than most, we recognize that the darkness of December is an apt metaphor for the darkness we all live in. The unspeakable heartbreak of the massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, the on-going cruelty dished out to innocents in Somalia, the hunger that plagues a billion people in the world, the news of looming environmental disasters that threaten all of us and all God's beloved creatures - all these realities and much of the daily news reminds us that there is a lot of darkness in the world. Seasonal depression, job loss, divorce, illness and death - these realities that seem heightened in this season remind us that the darkness is not just out there but is in us as well.
In the midst of darkness, can we believe that the Light has come? Can we affirm with John that the Word of God lives with us here, now in our world? Can we let Christmas - its stories and songs, its promise of peace and joy become our daily reality? Can we look at the paper each morning and say no matter how bleak the headlines, "Today - this day - the Light of the World has moved in with us here?"
Can we look at the darkness and evil in our day - in all its guises, personal, political, social - can we look in the face of evil and shout, or at least whisper, "Today, you are finished, washed up. Your hours are numbered. The light has come and all darkness must run away before it."
That's a lot for people to affirm in the dark. But it is what we believe and celebrate here at the end of the year, when the nights are long and the daylight is feeble. Christmas is not just about the cute baby and the shepherds and Mary and Joseph. Christmas is about the Incarnate One, the Word of God, the Holy One, living with us here, today, shining light in our darkness.
"In him was light and the light was humanity's light. And the light shines on in the darkness and the darkness never quenched it." -John 1 (The Cotton Patch Gospel, Clarence Jordan)