Have you heard the news? That question often makes my heart sink, because it’s usually bad news! The year started with the violent attack on the US Capitol. Then all those cataclysmic climate events, racial attacks, mass shootings, a deeply broken and divided nation and world. And perhaps most disheartening of all, the devastating effects of the Covid virus. Such a diet of bad news, day after day, can profoundly affect the way that we see our own lives. We can look back over this year and see only the bad news: bad news for ourselves, our families, our lives.
And if certain newspapers, eager for a story, honed in on you, wanting to dig up some bad news about you, that you’d rather the public didn’t know, I wonder what they would find? They would likely find something sooner or later, because there is bad news about all of us, if you look hard enough: things we have done or said, which we maybe wished we hadn’t, and which we’d hate to be made known.
But today is Christmas. We are here to celebrate GOOD NEWS; wonderful, joyful good news. Not make believe, or wishful thinking. The good news is this: that ‘the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.’ Yes, there is darkness – God knows there is darkness, darkness and all sorts of sinful, hurtful, shameful things in all of us and in our society. But the good news is that when God looks closely at you and at me, he is not like that newspaper looking for bad news. When God looks at us he looks at us with the eyes of love. Just as when you look at the person you love, you see how lovely they are: all that is beautiful and good about them. And when the person we love – our spouse, our children, our partner, our brother – when they are in trouble, or mess up, or fail an exam, or lose a job, or do something stupid or wrong, we don’t point the finger at them, or condemn them, or tell everyone about it. No, we love them even more, and we do everything in our power to help them – because we love them. And when things go wrong we love them all the more.
And when God looks at you and me, and sees how easily we mess up, how easily we fall and sin; how we hurt each other and ourselves, how we damage our beautiful world, our environment: when God looks at his beloved children in Afghanistan, killed and maimed, his beloved children in this country hurting and attacking each other, he doesn’t condemn them, and say, ‘You human beings are bad news. I wash my hands of you.’ NO. God loves us all the more. God so loves us that he sends his only Son Jesus Christ into the world at Christmas. God did not send Jesus to us in order to look for the bad news about us. St. John writes in his Gospel, chapter 3, ‘Indeed God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.’ God sent Jesus into the world at Christmas to share what it is to be human: to experience in his body the terrible and hurtful and sinful things that we can do to each other – and yet to carry on loving us and forgiving us, and redeeming us; restoring us to whom we are meant to be. And that is very good news. However dark life can be, ‘the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.’ However bad the bad news is, the Good News is better, stronger, the Good News will always triumph!
‘The light shines in the darkness’ – even for those shepherds, ‘keeping watch over their flock by night.’ They were ‘bad news’. Shepherds were despised: dirty, unable to keep the law. They kept away from ordinary society, and when others saw shepherds they saw ‘bad news’. But… in the middle of the dark night, the glory of the Lord shone around those shepherds, and the angel said, ‘Behold I bring you good news of great joy for all the people.’
And those wise men in the East, night after night staring up into the dark sky: ‘What will the new year bring – good news or bad? Suddenly a new star shone out brightly, and they knew. This light shining in the darkness would lead them to the Good News too.
I wonder what 2022 has in store for you? Good news or bad? I don’t actually think that is the right question. For the news is not just what we read in the papers. We are not just passive recipients, victims of news from ‘out there’. The truth is that we can make news. The newspapers can numb us into feeling it is all so bad, and it’s all out there. So, what can I do? But bringing light into a dark world begins with me. I love those ancient words, “It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness. A few hours ago, I heard the news that Archbishop Desmond Tutu has just died, at the age of 90. Here was a man who spent his whole life lighting candles of hope in a dark world. I remember him when he was living here in Cambridge. He would often slip in quietly to this chapel and sit at the back, praying with us. I will never forget his ‘chuckle’, that infectious laugh which just made you feel better, the assurance that everything was going to be alright. This was a man who in the midst of a world full of bad news, made good news. The Archbishop of Canterbury said of him, ‘He changed the world.’ He was once asked, ‘Are you optimistic about the world?’ ‘No’, he replied, ‘I am not optimistic, but I am hopeful. Because I am a Christian, and so I have hope.’ Amen! May he rest in peace and rise in glory.
At this Christmas time, each of us can, like Desmond Tutu, resolve to make good news this coming year. Each of us can light a candle in the darkness, and bring good news to a world in so much need. So, on this first Sunday after Christmas, a challenge to ‘make good news’. Maybe during this Eucharist today, as we approach a new year, think of at least one way, a practical, tangible way that you will try to light a candle, and bring some good news into the life of another. Is there someone who, when I look at them, I see bad news, I write them off? Perhaps I need to change the way I look at them, and see them with God’s eyes, the eyes of love. Or is there some action I can do in this coming year, something bold, something courageous, that will bring God’s Good News into this broken world which God so loves? Make good news this coming year.
Today we are here to celebrate, to celebrate that the light of Christ is more powerful than the darkest night. “For the light of Christ shines in the darkness and the darkness will not overcome it.” And that is very, very good news.
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