Bringers of Light
Christmas Day. Most Rev Malcolm McMahon OP preaches on the readings for the Daytime Mass.
At the beginning of St John’s Gospel, which is proclaimed at the Mass on Christmas morning, we learn that through the Word, ‘All that came to be had life in him, and that life was the light of men, a light that shines in the dark, a light that darkness could not overpower’. That Word was made flesh and lived among us. Christ continues to live among us and shine his light into the darkness of our world. At the heart of all this is a child who is born in the most difficult of circumstances, yet he has come to save the world. That event shatters all of our expectations and brings us to a point where our understanding of God as mercy and love becomes real. Our man-made Christmas of tinsel and glitter fades as it is outshone by the glory of God who is with us.
Our churches are open again and this is a cause for joy as we celebrate the feast of Christmas. Sadly, when the national debate was taking place as to whether Christmas would be cancelled this year, it was not the religious feast that was being referred to, but the festivities centred around parties, decorations and shopping. The only positive aspect of this debate was whether families would be able to get together, but there was little talk of cribs, carol services, and most importantly whether it would be possible to open our churches for Mass. It would seem that our society is interested more in the secular idea of Christmas than in a celebration with the birth of the Christ-child at its centre. What a challenge this presents to Christians! Will Christ ever enter public discourse again? This may well be the darkness that the light has yet to overpower and as followers of Christ we have the responsibility to be bearers of the light.
This Christmas is not an easy one for many thousands of people because of the pandemic, and although there is some light at the end of the tunnel the immediate prospect still looks bleak despite the hope that families will be reunited and that a vaccine will soon be available. But let us remember that we are not simply waiting for something to happen in the future – the light of Christmas is made present now by the numerous volunteers who are bringing food and comfort to those who are in material need or are simply lonely. This has been and continues to one of the blessings that has emerged from the darkness of the pandemic. This should not be a surprise for us as that is what the mystery of the incarnation really is: you can now be Christ to others and bring some light into their lives. It will be a light that won’t be put out after the festivities are over but will shine through you for ever.
Being one of those people who bring light to others by that phone call or delivering food is an important way in which the light of Christ is en-fleshed in our present day. St John also reminds us that light cannot be overpowered by darkness. What does that mean for us in a time where darkness has made a reappearance? We often talk about being in a dark place, and one famous author describes some of his works as his ‘dark materials’. Sufferers from depression know what darkness is like when their world becomes monochrome and there is no bright light in their lives. With all this darkness around in our language and in our lives the light of Christ offers us a way forward. This light gives us the insight and courage to seek out darkness in all its forms and hiding places, and to overcome it. One place with dark corners is the church itself, and as scandalous behaviour is exposed, we hang our heads in shame, but we are also given the courage by God to step into the light and to see more clearly as we find new ways forward. Shining light into dark places often only reveals a problem and not the way to solve it, but it is a first step. Nevertheless, progress can only be made if we take that first step no matter how hesitant we may be. In his letter to the Ephesians St Paul reminds his readers that they are children of the light – and so it is that we are guided by Christ, the Light of the World as we tackle the darkness before us. This Christmas morning let us reaffirm our place in the light. An existence in the shadows is not a place for Christians. If we move out from the twilight in which we so often live and join together with other Christians, our own little light will become a blaze which will transform our world.
Sometimes children have a way of putting things that help us understand what is happening. I remember a young friend of mine who had large bump on her head said that she got it by colliding with a door when she got up in the night to go to the bathroom. She said it happened because she had too much darkness in her eyes. As we thank God for the gift of his Son this Christmas let us remove the darkness from our eyes so that the ‘radiant light of God’s glory’ may bring us joy and peace.