Strike a light!

40776907 - one candle flame at night closeup

Sermon for the Midnight Mass, on the prologue to John’s Gospel.

John 1.1-14

 “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” (John 1:5)

In the beginning God had been very busy creating things. And it was tiring! So God said: Wow! I’m worn out. I’ve just created a 24-hour period of alternating light and darkness on Earth.

The angel said: What are you going to do now?

And God said: I think I’ll call it a day!

One of our most basic fears is fear of the dark. Today, with electric lighting inside and out we rarely have to face the dark unless it is our own choice – or it’s after midnight and the council have turned the street lights off!

At the time of Jesus, as night fell, the only protection against the dark was a candle or an oil lamp. And to step outside your front door was to step into the dark and the unknown, where even what little light you had could only light up a few steps in front of you. Beyond that, and the darkness swallowed up the light.

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”

That fear of the dark is something that we still experience, most of us, as children. And that childhood fear is so common that the Center For Effective Parenting, based in Little Rock Arkansas, has a very helpful page on its website dedicated to helping children overcome their fear of the dark. It is full of useful information such as: One of the most common forms of fear of the dark is fear of sleeping in a dark room … This type of fear usually occurs at night.

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”

The message of Christmas addresses our worst fears, shines light upon them, and provides them with an answer.

When we grow up fear of the darkness is replaced by fear of so many things. We look round our world, at chaos and war, at places where people are starving and oppressed, and we think of them as places dominated by the darkness of hopelessness and death. And we face the fears ever present on our own doorsteps – fears brought on by money worries, relationship problems, health issues, crime, terrorism …

The opening of John’s Gospel addresses our fears head-on. Matthew and Luke in their Gospels tell us about the birth of Jesus, and we hear their familiar stories each Christmas. They tell us stories of the birth: of Joseph the faithful carpenter; of Mary the young girl favoured by God; of journeys, stars and angels; of an inn and a stable; of shepherds and wise men.  And these stories show that God’s plan will unfold whatever the problems put in its way. Miraculously, the Emmanuel child is born, and God is with us.

But John spells out for us the deeper implications of this birth. John explains in mysterious and poetic language how this child, the Son of God born as one of us, was with God before time began.

Not only that, he is God himself. And yet he has chosen to be born as a human being. God – says John – has come into his own creation as one of us. He is a light shining in the darkness.

It is very easy to be pessimistic about our world. And while we may well be facing the coming year with hope, we may also be fearful of what it may bring for ourselves and our families as well as the world as a whole. We are so often afraid that the darkness will win.

John invites us in his Gospel, as followers of Jesus, to take a different view. He asks us to fix our eyes on the light, and to know that it shines on, and that no darkness can put it out. And that when we come together as community and live the way God wants us to live, the world is a brighter place for it becomes alight with the light of God.

Now, Christmas quite rightly a time of joy – a time for fun, for turkey, cake and chocolates, for giving and receiving, a time for parties and for celebration, and a time for struggling with the choice of whether to watch the new Doctor Who appear for the first time, or to find out who dies this year in Eastenders (a British TV soap). Not much joy in Albert Square this Christmas, but then there never is!

But it is also a very serious celebration. It reminds us that Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us, has come into our world.

And God’s presence with us in Jesus makes everything different. The child that was born is life and light, and the world will never be the same. Life can no longer be conquered by death, as this child will eventually demonstrate in the most dramatic way possible. Light can no longer be dispelled by darkness. We no longer need fear the dark, For the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not, and will not, overcome it.