‘In Him was Life, and that Life was the Light of all people’
In the beginning when God began his creation of the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.
When God creates the heavens and the Earth he is creating a place in which he will dwell – a Temple – and his first act is to separate Light and Dark, Day and Night. It is fundamental to the dwelling place of God, the one who dwells not only in unapproachable light, but also deep darkness – as the Psalmist reminds us –
If I say,
‘Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light around me become night’,
even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is as bright as the day,
for darkness is as light to you.. . .
and the prophet Isaiah asks –
Who among you fears the Lord
and obeys the voice of his servant,
who walks in darkness
and has no light,
yet trusts in the name of the Lord
and relies upon his God?
Indeed there is much in the Christian tradition to suggest to us that God is more present to us in these darker hours of night, or rather that daylight can obscure more than it reveals . . . after all, as St John tells us ‘The Light shines . . . in the darkness’. This light is Life . . .
In the same way that it is only in deep silence that we hear the gentle voice of the Dove like Spirit of God, the Light of Life requires the darkness for our perception . . . and yet we fill the Universe with noise, and flood the night with our own lights . . . [Is:50-11]
When as a family we first visited New Zealand in 2004, we spent a night in Reefton – and one image from there has remained fixed in my memory – the mural of a huge electric light bulb – commemorating the fact that in August 1888 Reefton became the first place in New Zealand and the Southern Hemisphere to have a public supply of electricity . . .
But with the advent of electric light – human agency, held back by the Darkness of Creation, exceeded its bounds, flooding every shadowed nook and cranny. Nothing was safe from its glare, or indeed the human acquisitive desire – Life became utterly explicit, nothing hid from the electric wonder – and the sense of the mystery of human existence seemed to vanish with the night at the flick of a switch . . . For the pitiless blaze of human light smears out lines and shade, everything is of equal brightness, so we too easily say ‘nothing to see here’ we see at best categories, but the mystery of each human person disappears in the merciless glare of the human light . . .
And with it the awe inspiring luminosity of the human person . . . that Wonder which the star canopied psalmist struggles to utter
When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars that you have established;
what are human beings that you are mindful of them,
mortals that you care for them?
What is a human being? What are you? Only the Silence, only the darkness allows a response . . . The blind light of the World says you are a mere biological machine, an accidental accretion of matter, and passes on . . . only the shade and the shadow brings a human life more fully into our apprehension
As God creates the Temple, he does so with a blueprint, he creates in accordance with a pattern. The underlying pattern of Reality. The Greeks had a word for this pattern – they called it ‘The Logos’ and this is made clear in the words from St John’s Gospel – in the beginning was the Logos, and the Logos was with God and the Logos was God, The Logos was with God in the beginning . . . The Logos becomes flesh and set up his tabernacle amongst us . . . The pattern of God’s dwelling place is man . . . The light which enlightens every human being was coming to find its place the world . . . but in the glare of our own perpetual lights, can we see it? Do we Know it and welcome it?
Jesus is born as we know into a world much like our own – the whole Roman Empire is in uproar – everything is moving, there is no stillness, and in the busyness of human agency, of the business of the world, there is no place found . . . the ancient icons, following the Proto-gospel of Jesus’ brother James, finds Christ born in a Cave, in utter darkness – the Cave of the human heart – the place prepared from before the beginning of time. Light in the darkness – and to all those who in humility accept they do not see, they do not know, but who in the darkness relies upon God, light begins to stream forth.
This is The Gift of this Holy Night – God With Us, God born among us, God born within us – that we might be children of Light, and ourselves illuminate the World as Christ dwells in our hearts by faith.
O Holy Child of Bethlehem, Descend to us we pray, cast out our Sin, the sin that blinds and deafens, cast out our sin and enter in. Be born in us today . . . Fill us with your Life – with your Light