Letter from the Vicarage – December 2015
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
These beautiful, evocative and imagery-rich opening words from St John’s Gospel are ones that will be heard time and again in numerous Christmas services across the world. The images therein of life and being, and darkness and light, speak to us as much today as they would have done to the original hearers of these words almost 2000 years ago. The world back then was one full of violence, political tyranny, war and oppression as indeed, it still seems to be today. The hope-filled words – The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it – are ones we still need to hear now, as much as people did back then!
I am writing this letter just a couple of days after the dreadful and terrible events in Paris with so much murder and injury caused. Our news has been full of all that happened there – and our hearts go out in compassion to all those who have suffered at the hands of those IS gunmen and suicide bombers – so much potentiality of life cut off and stolen – for all concerned. Life in Paris is not so very different to the life we live here and that is why such scenes of terror speak to us and move us so powerfully – it’s not hard for us to imagine how easily it could have been us or our loved ones that such tragic events happened to. Indeed 7/7 lingers in our own memories. But it’s not just Paris is it? This is the story our media has focused on but last week 43 people were also killed in Beirut in a suicide bombing, and just yesterday news broke of the discovery of two mass graves near Sinjar, in north-west Iraq, believed to contain the remains of women and children from the Yazidi community. They expect to find 15 to 20 more graves. And since the conflict began in Syria, more than 12,000 children have been killed there. These are dark times!
But as we have seen in Paris, in the face of such darkness, people refuse to let darkness and violence claim the victory. They light candles and observe vigils in defiant proclamation that darkness does not have the final say. The lighting of candles declares that light and love and common bond of our humanity are so much stronger. That is the message of the opening words of John’s Gospel. There is no promise there that the light has come to obliterate all darkness but rather that, though there may still be darkness, it will never ever be totally dark. The tiniest of lights – such as that of a candle flame – transforms the darkest of darks. That is the joyous message of Christmas that we will be celebrating in just a few week’s time. Christ was born in Bethlehem, and in that action, as through his death and resurrection, Christians believe that this reveals a God who refuses to leave us alone in the suffering of the darkness, but who, instead, steps down into the darkness and walks with us in it. Jesus is “Emmanuel”, which translates as “God is with us”. We are not – and never can be – alone – for God is with humanity, bringing light which saves, guides, transforms and reveals.
The other message of all the candles being lit in Paris, and also the message of the Church, is the call to be one human family, a call to be united together in love and in the refusal to let darkness win. In writing that, I am reminded of the words of an Indian mystic called Amma. She said – “Imagine you have only a single watt bulb – the light from it is very small. But with many bulbs there will be much light, love and understanding”….
This Christmas may you know light and joy.