Readings: Isa 52:7-10; Heb 1:1-6; John 1:1-18
Each year in my childhood, my father would climb into the loft on Christmas Eve and retrieve a box of tree decorations. Some must have come from the early years of the twentieth century, like the little birds of painted metal that clipped onto the higher branches of the tree, and delicate glass bells; others were from the sixties like the hollow stars of coloured plastic that my mother would fill with sweets and hang lower down. There was plenty of tinsel; and a set of coloured lights to be tested, its conical bulbs tightened or replaced, in the hope that they would still work their magic but not electrocute the cat. And why? Because, as Isaiah proclaims in the first reading from the Midnight Mass of Christmas, 'on those who live in a land of deep shadow a light has shone'; and as we hear from St John's Gospel for Christmas Day, the baby in the manger is none other than the Divine Word born in human flesh, the 'true light that enlightens all people'.
Each of us will have experienced times and pools of darkness in the past year: it may have been a major illness or family bereavement. For some it will have been the anxieties that come with financial insecurity, or sudden loss of work, or the exhausting demands of caring for others with complex needs. For others, it may have been the break-up of a relationship, of a family, a broken promise, or an abuse of trust. Our resilience will have been tested, sometimes sorely, pushing us towards addictive behaviours or into cynicism; some will have reached breaking-point. All of us have suffered to some extent from the increasingly bitter divisions in society, from a political culture in which truth and moral integrity seem little valued. All of us, and some sharply through sudden floods, have suffered from the degradation of the natural environment on which we and future generations depend for our well-being. Now, though, we can celebrate, truthfully and joyfully, how into this darkness of sin and its consequences a light has come, 'a light that the darkness could not overpower'.
How so? How does this child light up our lives? It takes the rest of John's Gospel, takes the four Gospels, to give a proper answer to this question; even then we shall not have a full answer; but the prologue to John's Gospel sums it up for us. This child is the 'only Son of the Father full of grace and truth' and 'from His fulness we have, all of us, received'.
As the Father's Son, true God from true God, in whom there can be no shadow of falsehood, there is nothing faked or phoney. Born of Mary, this child shows us what it really is to be human, both as he lies utterly vulnerable and dependent in the manger, and as he grows up into a mature human adult. Here is someone fully alive to love in the practice of the virtues, with the courage that it takes to live in the truth and to speak it. Here is one utterly unafraid to see the creation as the Father's gift, to accept and return the Father's love for Him and us in the power of the Holy Spirit, to worship the Father in the love He shows His neighbours, be they friends or enemies. This is what it is to act justly; this is what it takes to be compassionate. And as He goes to the cross, we see what it really costs.
As the Father's son, true God from true God, between whom nothing is withheld, but all is given and shared in the Holy Spirit, there is nothing mean or stinted in how he acts. All is graced, freely given. Born of Mary, this child will share with us His all-creative life, restore us to that fully human life which He reveals, pouring out the Holy Spirit upon His Church at Pentecost, in baptism and confirmation, and through the gift of Himself in the Holy Eucharist. If we accept His cross, we shall share His resurrection from death to eternal life. 'If any one thirst, let him come to me and drink. He who believes in me, as the scripture has said, Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water' (Jn 7:37-38).
However dark it gets, and because it gets so dark, there is so much to celebrate in this light! Happy Christmas!
Father Ed Bakker,
Anglican Catholic Church/Original Province,
Mission of Saint Aidan of Lindisfarne,