A couple of weeks ago I was giving a children’s talk in church and asked them what their favourite part of Christmas was. Some of the answers were inevitable: presents, Jesus, food. However, it got me thinking about my own favourite things about Christmas. Perhaps one of the more surprising realisations was how much I appreciate Christmas lights. Town centres adorn their streetlights with all manner of lights; houses swamped by colourful, flashing lights; and of course, the Christmas trees twinkling brightly in windows on cold, dark winter nights. I’ve got to think I’m not the only one who appreciates all these lights when the days get dark mid-afternoon, offering a little bit of cheer “in the bleak midwinter”.
We can make arguments about the Christianizing of pagan festivals, or the more recent secularization of Christian festivals, but the truth is Christmas, in the northern hemisphere, comes at the very nadir of daylight and right before we begin the ascent into the lighter, brighter, life-bringing, springtime. And surely, right there, is a message of Christmas. As we head into the winter solstice this week (it’s already starting to look dark at 3pm as I write!) it’s a time to remember that Christmas is when light entered into the darkness.
We have at the very beginning of John’s Gospel, his “Christmas” account. It’s not the usual shepherds, Wise Men, and angels; instead John concentrates on the Word as the eternal second person of the Trinity, the Son, Jesus Christ, God-incarnate, mysteriously and wonderfully taking on flesh, to become Emmanuel, God with us. In his 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.’ Perhaps unsurprisingly then, the analogy of light features throughout the early Church Fathers. The Cappadocians used the sun as the source of light and heat to describe the co-eternity and co-equality of the Triune persons. You cannot have the sun’s light and heat without the sun; and you cannot have only the sun without also its heat and light (we’ll ignore the cold winter sun of Scotland for the time being and, similarly the other issues of analogy!) The image of Christ as light is most profound and one we should readily embrace at Christmas.
We hear the carol singers give a powerful rendition of “O Come All Ye Faithful” and perhaps even belt out the words ourselves – ‘God of God, Light of Light . . . Very God, Begotten not created’ – perhaps not stopping to think these words are the words of an ancient creed remembering Christ, the incarnate God. It will never stop to amaze me that the God who created the world, entered into that very world as a baby. A light in the darkness; which the darkness cannot overcome. As we light advent candles, or switch on the fairy lights on our tress, or marvel at the twinkle of lights along the high street, no matter how dark the day, we realise that whenever there is a light, the darkness cannot snuff it out. Jesus Christ, baby of Bethlehem, the light of the world, eternal hope in dark times, Emmanuel – God with us.
I hope that whatever Christmas holds for you, you will hold on to Christ who is the light.