I wonder how many of you have decorated the outside of your home with lights this Christmas. It seems, with each passing year, that displays are becoming more extravagant as neighbours, and sometimes whole streets, compete to ‘out do’ each other and, as they do, give an amazing display of seasonal decorations. I don’t do this myself, not because I’m a miserable old Scrooge, but because I can’t afford the electricity bill at the end of it!
But I love the ways in which people make such an effort to brighten things up this time of year. Some people suggest that Christmas lights are a bit OTT, but if people are wanting to make the extra effort to decorate houses, and the Town Council our shops and High Street, then it’s got to be good thing. But it’s not just outdoors, is it? Many of us have lights on our trees/ houses too. I’m all in favour of lights at Christmas which is why I love services by candlelight and the fun of Christingle that we enjoyed earlier.
You don’t need me to tell you that this is the darkest time of the year (Tuesday 21st longest night) and some of you will suffer quite badly from a lack of light. Except when it snows and brightens things up. Did you know that snow is forecast for next week! Well – a 40% chance in Billericay!
Many people leave for work before sunrise and arrive home after sunset. Those of you whose jobs involve staring at computer screens, or being involved in Zoom/Team meetings, may never see the sun. Though WFH has changed that for many. For some, the seasonal gloom becomes even worse with the arrival of Seasonal Affective Disorder, which impacts their lives with an even deeper winter. This tells us that we all need light in our lives. I want to suggest three areas where light is particularly important at Christmas: Light gives us life; Light lets us see; Light sets us free.
- Light Gives Us Life
Biologically, almost all living things depend on plants which grow by drawing energy from the sun. Shroud the earth in darkness, through some terrible disaster and within months the only living things would be bacteria/fungi and weeds! I say weeds because as any gardener knows even when we have no rain, and the lawns are parched brown, weeds still seem to grow!
Psychologically, though, light is important for us all. Even if we haven’t been diagnosed with Seasonal Affective Disorder (or SAD syndrome as it is often known) many of us find ourselves feeling ‘down’ in December.
And it’s interesting that if you listen to anyone who’s feeling low describing their state of mind they will, almost inevitably, use the language of light by mentioning the ‘gloom’, the ‘darkness’ or the ‘shadow’ that has fallen over them.
And at a spiritual level, we all need something that brings hope to the soul. And Christmas gives us that in abundance. Light gives us life.
- Light Lets Us See
Without light in the physical world, we find ourselves in trouble. We’ve probably all had the experience of wandering around the house in pitch darkness, perhaps as a result of a power cut, or walking up the stairs without switching on the light – accumulating bruises and scrapes as we trip or collide with furniture or boxes that shouldn’t have been there. Light can also allow us to see things that are wrong or dangerous and, whilst some people prefer darkness, light allows us to avoid danger.
Symbolically, the language of light is used whenever people talk about resolving difficult issues. We read how ‘light has been shed’ on some mystery, how research has ‘illuminated’ our knowledge or even how someone had a ‘bright’ idea. Indeed, when we struggle with some unknown problem/situation we may admit that we are simply ‘in the dark.’ The presence of light allows us to see more than hazards or problems: it allows us to see both the beautiful and the ugly.
Imagine yourself standing in a room full of pictures and works of art, perhaps somewhere like the National Gallery, but unable to see them because of darkness. But when the switch is thrown on, and the room flooded with light, the beauty becomes visible.
Light, of course, plays a large part in the Christmas story. God’s angelic light shone into the midst of the darkness of that night on a Judean hillside, as the angels proclaimed to the shepherds the good news that Christ the Saviour was born.
The Wise Men followed a bright star from the East, because they believed it heralded the birth of a very special king. Jesus, the light of the world, began to shine into the darkness of human life.
In John’s Gospel. Vs 4-5 we read these words: “In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” Matthew, writing about Jesus, says: ‘The people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned’ (Matthew 4:16). And Jesus said of himself: ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness’ (John 8:12).
Some of you may be avid Star Wars fans but, even if you’re not, I’m sure you’ll know that the recurring theme through all the Star Wars films is the constant struggle between the light side and the dark side of ‘The Force’. ‘The Force’ can be used for good or for evil. Star Wars aren’t Christian films, but they could well be. In Star Wars the characters have to make a choice whether to follow the light side or the dark side. It’s a constant battle in our own lives too, isn’t it?
Our reading from John’s Gospel makes this point: This is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.
The darkness is simply as absence of love and as we look around us on TV and newspapers, we see the overwhelming darkness which exists in some parts of our nation and in many places across the world. Many of Jesus’ own people, who were living in darkness, didn’t accept him. They chose not to receive His light. So, they crucified him to a cross hoping to extinguish the light he radiated once and for all.
The Bible teaches that if we choose to push God out of our lives, light becomes absent, and we’re left with darkness (Romans 1:21). It’s true that our eyes adjust to the absence of light, and we can become accustomed to darkness – and that’s as true physically as it is spiritually. Have you, I wonder, become accustomed to living in darkness? Light lets us see.
- Light Sets Us Free
All too often darkness brings with it something enslaving or oppressing. I’m sure we’ve all had the experience of lying awake at night, struggling hopelessly with some problem or worry and then, as dawn breaks, finding that we can now see it in a new perspective and break free from it. Darkness symbolises the very worst aspects of life: imprisonment, fear and despair.
The likes of Slade and Wizzard have enjoyed a very wealthy retirement based on one Christmas song released over 40 years ago! Many Christmas pop songs are pretty cheesy, aren’t they? But one song I never tire of listening to, if I dare admit it, is ‘The Power of Love’ by Frankie Goes To Hollywood (first released in 1984). The song includes the line: “Love is the light scaring darkness away.”
What about this line from Coldplay: “Oh Christmas lights, Light up the street, Light up the fireworks in me. May all your troubles soon be gone. Those Christmas lights keep shining on.” Light sets us free.
In every way – biological, psychological and spiritual – we need light and without it we’d struggle to survive. Faced with a darkened world, I’m glad Christianity talks about light. Light frames the Bible: at its start we read how God created light (Genesis 1:3) and at its end we are promised a city where ‘there will be no more darkness’ (Revelation 22:5).
Have you, I wonder, become accustomed to living in darkness? Have you become accustomed to loving darkness rather than light?
Light gives us life; Light lets us see; Light sets us free.
May each one of us here allow the light of Christ to shine in our hearts and shine in the darkness.
A Christmas Blessing
May God grant us the light of Christmas, which is faith.
The warmth of Christmas, which is love.
The radiance of Christmas, which is purity.
The righteousness of Christmas, which is justice.
The belief in Christmas, which is truth.
The all of Christmas, which is Christ.
This is a copy of a talk I gave at Emmanuel, Billericay at The First Communion of Christmas on Christmas Eve 2021. The Bible Reading was John 1:1-18