Facing The Darkness And Finding The Light

I don’t know about other preachers but I find, at times such as Christmas, there is a reoccurring theme throughout my preaching.  During Christmas 2019, that theme has been “darkness and light”.  I have found that there have been two verses in particular that have really spoken to me;

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light (Isaiah 9 vs. 2)

The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. (John 1 vs. 9)

Maybe it is a subconscious thing.  For our family 2019 has not been the best of years. I have felt, at times, as though I have had to face a tremendous amount of personal darkness.  If I expressed 2019 in five words it would be “thank goodness it is over!”

I think most Christians recognize that, our celebration of the birth of Jesus, is at the wrong time of year.  We do not know, exactly, when Jesus birthday really was.  I have heard explanations of anywhere between June and September. We also accept that, as the Church wanted to celebrate the incarnation it “bolted” Christmas on to an already existing festival.  However, I have come to realise, that this “bolting on” was more than mere convenience, it was / is symbolically important.  The darkest time of year, when we face the darkness we find the light of Christ is there.  That is, surely, the hope of the Christian faith

When we face the darkness, we find the light

Yes 2019 was not the best of years and, to borrow a phrase, it was our annus horribilis but, there were chinks of light that gave cause for hope.  Perhaps, it’s my thinking that needs to be challenged, instead of focussing on the darkness I need to focus, instead, on the light.  Perhaps there is something there for all of us.

May I take this opportunity to wish you a happy and joyous New Year.  May 2020 be a blessed and peace filled New Year. But, if it isn’t, may you face the darkness and find the light of Christ is there for you may, as the Apostle John says,

The light shines in the darkness but the darkness has not overcome it (John 1 vs. 5)

Disruption

Yesterday as my, almost, six-month old grandchild vomited on my jumper (yet again), I found myself reflecting that a baby brings an awful lot of disruption with it.  Your world is never the same.

Things that you used to take for granted are no longer the same.  When you used to just jump in the car and go, now the simplest trip to the supermarket, resembles a full scale military exercise.  Sleep becomes a luxury.

Your conversation changes.  Things you would never have dreamt about discussing, naturally appear in your conversation; “how does so much poo come out of such a little thing?”

You become proud and congratulate your child on breaking, what the adult world, would considers good manners; “oh what a clever boy you are, what a big burp!”

Your taste in art work certainly changes as you display the latest daub of green paint on paper in pride of place.  Your taste in theatre changes as you sit through endless school productions to cheer on your little one performing the part of a tree; “they were the best tree in the whole history of forests”

But equally, your values change too.  The world that used to revolve around you, now has a different vision.  That little bundle of life becomes the centre of your world.  You protect them.  Worry about them.  Hope for them.  When they hurt, you hurt.  When they are sad, it breaks your heart.  When they score the slightest gain, you are triumphant and proud of them.

Nothing quite prepares you for the disruption a child brings into the world.

Maybe that is why God took so long in preparing for the first Christmas.  He knew the Christ child would bring a tremendous amount of disruption with Him.  The world would never, could never, be the same.  The entire world would be changed by the arrival of Jesus.  Isaiah says;

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this.

(Isaiah 9 vs. 6 – 7)

As I read these words, I wondered how their original hearers heard them.  Did they see them as words of hope or of threat?  I see them as almost a warning.  These words spell the end of the established order and structure.  A God driven change heralded by the disruption of the birth of a baby.

As I continued to reflect, I found myself thinking about the joys of parenthood and grandparenthood (not sure if that is a real word but, I claim it anyway) because, the joys are real.  I love being a grandad and I enjoy being silly, playing games, even being jumped on (some of the time).  The chaos that has come with children has been the sort of chaos that has been good for me.

I think the same is also true of the disruption that the Christ child has brought into my life too.  The old order of my world has been overturned and replaced by hope, joy and peace.  Perhaps most significantly, my values changed and continue to change as I allow that bit of Christ like disruption to work within me.

One of my friends is a lovely chap called Alec Depledge.  I received his blog the other day (https://stryka66.wordpress.com/2019/12/17/the-long-and-the-short).  In it was a prayer from Celtic Daily Prayer – Book II- “Farther Up and Farther In” which really spoke to me about some of the disruption we all need;

A Midwinter Prayer

From the rising of the midwinter sun to its setting,

Scatter the darkness with the light of your love, O Shining One.

Make me short on mean thoughts, long on offering words of comfort.

Make me short on being driven, long on paying attention.

Make me short on focusing only on my own, long on looking beyond.

Make me short on obsessive lists, long on spontaneous acts of kindness,

Make me short on mindless activity, long on time to reflect.

Make me short on tradition as habit, long on re-discovery and re-owning.

Make me short on rushing and tiring, long on walking and wondering.

Make me short on false festive jollity, long on stilling and rooted joy.

Make me short on guilt, long on being merciful to myself.

Make me short on being overwhelmed, long on peaceableness as I set forth this day.

Missing It

I recently took my daughter to a hospital appointment in London.  The challenge that lay before us was navigating ourselves to an unfamiliar part of London in the rush hour.  Our appointment time was just as the daily rush was beginning and it meant that we would be trying to get home in the midst of the chaos. 

This was a new experience for me and, it was not a prospect I relished.  In the event, it actually turned out to be a lot easier than I thought it would be.  Yes, it was very busy but, the clear signage and great announcements made our journey quite bearable. 

It was on the return journey that the incident happened.

As we came from the hospital and onto the underground, it was considerably busier.  We managed to get onto a tube and were “strap hanging” with the other sardines in the can. 

The train arrived at Farringdon and there were the usual announcements on train and on platform, clear signs, everything you needed to know where you were.  The train came to its stop and the doors opened.  We waited for a while.  The doors closed.  Suddenly, a lady who was on her phone started shoving her way through shouting “excuse me”.  She made it to the door, just as the train began to move.  In vain she kept hitting the door button but, as the train was gathering speed, there was no hope.

She had missed it.

Despite the signs and announcements, she missed it.  The very reason she was on the tube.  The thing she wanted; needed had been missed because she had been distracted by her phone.

As I thought about this incident it occurred to me that “missing it” is very much part of the Christmas story. Despite all the signs (angels, shepherds and star) so many people missed what was happening;

The inn keeper (okay the Bible doesn’t tell us there was one), missed it

The people in Bethlehem, despite the shepherds telling them, missed it

Herod in his palace, despite the Magi telling him, missed it.

The danger is that we too can miss it.

Like the lady on the tube, we can easily get distracted by the pressure of the season, the busyness of all that has to be done that we too can miss it.  The very reason for the season can end up buried in wrapping paper and tinsel that we lose Him in the midst.

Over this coming Christmas season, every once in a while, why not get off the train, give yourself some space and reflect on the words of the prophet Isaiah who said;

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

(Isaiah 9 vs. 6)

In this time of noise and bustle, take some time to be quiet before God and do not miss it.

O hush the noise, ye men of strife And hear the angels sing

(It came upon a midnight clear – EH Sears)

Dark and Light

As I have been preparing for the upcoming festive season, a lot of my thinking has been around the theme of light and darkness.  I love the prologue of John’s Gospel and contrasting images of light and dark that it presents;

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

(John 1 vs. 5 – NRSV)

Other translations voice it slightly differently

The darkness has not understood it (NIV)

The darkness has never put it out (Good News)

The darkness comprehended it not (KJV)

The darkness couldn’t put it out (The Message)

As I have been mulling over these thoughts, I read something that really cast a light on the subject of darkness.  Richard Rohr quotes Joan Chittister;  

Psychologists tell us that one of the most difficult conditions a person can be forced to bear is light deprivation. Darkness, in fact, is often used in military captivity or penal institutions to break down an individual’s sense of self. Once a person becomes disoriented, once they lose a sense of where they are . . . once they can no longer feel in control of their physical surroundings—a person loses a sense of self. Every shred of self-confidence shrivels. The giant within them falls and they become whimpering prey of the unknown. The natural instinct to be combative is paralyzed by fear. The spirit of resistance weakens. The prisoner becomes more pliable, more submissive, more willing to take directions.

It disarms a person, this fall into the sinkhole of sensory deprivation. It can drive them to madness. It is, every military knows, an effective technique. . . .

(Richard Rohr Meditation – Lightlessness – 23/12/2019)

As I read these words, it occurred to me that to be in darkness with no hope of light, is a terrible place to be.  You feel abandoned, disorientated, without bearings and without direction.  You can soon be lost and without hope of ever finding your way again.

God did something about our, as Richard Rohr describes it, “lightlessness”.  He sent Jesus to show us how to live in the relationship we were made for, with our Heavenly Father.  He sent Jesus to show us how to live in relationship with each other.  He sent Jesus to pay the price for our darkness so that we can live in the light.  All of us need to hear afresh the words of Jesus when He said;

“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

(John 8 vs.12)

Are you following the light of life today?