Christmas Day based on John 1:1-14
We have a creche that has been in my family for as long as I can remember. My godparents—my mom’s brother Jim and his wife Linda—made it for my parents in the early 70s. Uncle Jim created the rustic manger out of some reclaimed roughhewn wood and Aunt Linda painted the delicate figurines. After my father died, I chose this set amongst all of my parents’ treasures to remind me of them and my godparents. We give it a special place of prominence on the buffet cabinet in our dining room.
There’s a small light in the upper eaves of the manger that has remained unlighted until this year. The rectory was built a 70 plus years ago and the number of outlets isn’t quite on par with a house built today. While there’s not a plug on that wall, I decided to run a small extension cord into the family room.
I love turning on the lights of Christmastide. That creche and the small lighted tree we bought the year we moved from Colorado since we couldn’t handle a large real one amongst the boxes. The small candles we put in a few of our windows. We have a tradition in our house of waiting until the afternoon Christmas Eve to light our big tree announcing Christ’s arrival. Throughout Christmastide I enjoy getting up early and sitting near the tree with only its small lights illuminating the room.
Just this week, as I turned on the small light in the wonderful creche, I noticed something quite remarkable. There on the wall behind it, a bit of light shone, and it looked just like a comet descending onto the manger scene. The light came through one of the cracks in a perfect serendipitous way. And now I can’t stop looking at that light, that star, shining brightly above the holy family and the barnyard animals and shepherds nearby.
Light, of course, plays an important roll in the imagery for Christmas. We heard it this morning from St. John in his description of Christ’s coming to earth. He writes, “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.” And then, after explaining that John the baptizer was not the light but the one to proclaim the light’s arrival, we read, “The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.”
And so that’s what has happened. We have been given the true gift of Christmas, the light of Christ revealed in the midst of darkness. The darkness almost always seems plentiful, overwhelming. Both on a global level in the midst of disheartening events taking place where injustice and fear rein, and on a personal level with the difficulties that play out in families or a diagnosis that overshadows us. Financial realities often set in this time of year, or the loneliness we feel when those we used to spend the holidays with are no longer present with us.
Yet notice how John the Evangelist gives that phrase of reassurance to us: The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it. Light entered the world on this day and nothing will ever take snuff out that light. On this Christmas Day light can enter our lives too, driving the darkness far from us.
Alfred, Lord Tennyson writes about this in his poem “Ring Out, Wild Bells.” In the beginning of the poem, he expresses his desire that as we celebrate this season near the year’s end that the bells would with their ringing send out the old and bring in the new.
Ring out the want, the care the sin,
The faithless coldness of the times;
Ring out, ring out my mournful rhymes,
But ring the fuller minstrel in.
Ring out false pride in place and blood,
The civic slander and the spite;
Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.
Ring out old shapes of foul disease,
Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.
Ring in the valiant man and free,
The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be.
On a dark night some two thousand years ago, light broke into this world and has not stopped shining yet. Too often the darkness we see and experience in life makes us hardened to the light. It’s only natural for us to become guarded in opening ourselves up given the way the dark can wreak havoc on us. But the gloom of fear and cynicism in its ability to desensitize us only drives us farther from the light. I’ve learned that our calloused hearts need to broken open, that cracks need to emerge, in order for the light to get in.
I close with a stanza from the superb carol “People Look East.”
Stars, keep the watch. When night is dim
One more light the bowl shall brim,
Shining beyond the frosty weather,
Bright as sun and moon together.
People, look east and sing today:
Love, the star, is on the way.
May the love of Christ shine into our hearts this day bringing his marvelous light and dispelling the darkness from within us. And may we always know that his light shines on and is never, ever overcome. Merry Christmas!