Christmas is here – this silent and holy night. We are all gathered here in this lovely church to be still – before a great and mighty wonder. “While all things were in quiet silence, and the night was in the midst of her course, thy Almighty Word leapt down from heaven, from thy royal throne.” (Wisdom 18:14) And we have come to adore Him.
Spread out before us is this beautiful crèche, lovingly made from olive wood by woodcarvers in Bethlehem. I love to just stand and gaze at it – with wide-eyed wonder, like a child. I love the flickering candles. It reminds me that it all happened in darkest night. Those shepherds were keeping watch over their flock by night. And that deepest darkness was suddenly shattered by an intense light. “The angel of the Lord stood among them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them.” (Luke 2:9)
But the glory of the angels was as nothing compared to the glory which the shepherds were to behold in Bethlehem. For there, as they bowed down before the child lying in the manger, they saw the glory of the Lord made flesh. There, in that stable, lay the Light of the World, the Light of our salvation, the Light which shines in the darkness, and which, as St. John tells us, will never be overcome by the darkness.
On this night in Bethlehem, those shepherds beheld what the prophet Isaiah had long prophesized, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. Those who live in a land of deep darkness, on them light has shined.” (Isaiah 9:2)
We, are all here tonight, on this holy night, like those shepherds, to praise and glorify God for sending us his Son Jesus Christ. We thank God that however dark, or difficult, or painful our lives may be, God’s light and love is always greater – that hope will always be stronger than despair – that the light will always triumph over the darkness.
It doesn’t always seem like that. So often the darkness seems to grip us, to hold us in its thrall. Tragedies, acts of violence and evil, play very loudly in our imaginations. How often we say, “I remember exactly where I was when President Kennedy was shot, or when the planes hit the World Trade Center on 9/11.” Those acts of darkness sear our memories.
But I also remember where I was when the Berlin wall came down in 1989, and in the following year, February 11, 1990, I was sitting on my sofa in my sitting room at Ounde School, glued to the TV when Nelson Mandela made that historic walk out of Robben Island into freedom. The light of one man shining amidst the darkness of apartheid. And that single light triumphed over the darkness.
One man’s light. Light is an extraordinary thing: the tiniest light can be seen from a very great distance. I remember my parents talking to me about the black-out in Cardiff, where they lived during the Second World War. In the middle of the darkest night, a single person striking a match outside to light a cigarette, could be seen from a bomber flying thousands of feet above.
But one single light, however tiny, can also bring enormous hope, joy and comfort to another. Jesus, the Light of the World, tells us to let our lights shine, to bring light and hope to those we meet. We often look at our world, with all its problems, and feel overwhelmed. It’s all too much – what could I do to help? But one light, however small, my light, your light, can make a huge difference. As Eleanor Roosevelt famously used to say, “It is better to light a candle, than to curse the darkness.”
So this Christmas, ask yourself, “How am I going to light a candle to bring light into someone else’s life?” Perhaps some act of kindness. Perhaps someone you know who is alone, or sick, or homebound – someone who is recently bereaved or unhappy. Christmas can be hard for many people. Who might you reach out to? Phone them, send them some flowers, visit them, invite them round for a meal. Show them that you have not forgotten them. Bring some light into their lives.
Perhaps there’s someone you don’t like, or who you’ve written off. So often when someone is rude, or short-tempered, or unpleasant to us, it’s because they are struggling with something in their lives which we know nothing about. There are some wise words by the first century Jewish writer, Philo of Alexandria, which I love, and have tried to live by. He said, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.” Perhaps that person you’ve written off is actually struggling. So instead, this Christmas, light a candle. “Bless,” as St. Paul urges us, “Bless, and do not curse.” (Romans 12:14)
And mysteriously, and wonderfully, as we light candles of kindness and goodness, the light of those candles spreads. In a little while we shall all be lighting candles. We’ll light one and then pass it on, and the whole church will be filled with light. And then we shall all sing together, “Silent Night.” As we sit together in the candlelight, hold in your hearts all those whom you love – your families, your friends. But also remember those you find it hard to love or even like, as well as those who are sad, lonely, neglected.
Ask yourself, “How will I light a light, however small, in somebody’s life this Christmas? How might they see the glory of the Lord reflected in me?”
On this holy night, may your hearts rejoice and be glad.
May the light of Christ fill you and may you share it far and wide.
May you have a truly holy, joyful and blessed Christmas.
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