Light in the Darkness
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness on them light has shined.
It’s been a little chilly lately, and the chill makes me think about that holy night when the baby Jesus was born, unprotected from the elements in a cow’s stall. And the fact that the light of the world was born in the quiet and darkness of night focuses our attention on the liminal nature of Christmas.
The word “liminal” is one of those terms loved by seminary types. It’s often used to describe that “in- between” state when we (or, in this case, the world) are at the threshold of major change. Certainly this is true of Christmas, as the birth of Jesus Christ was God’s best and last attempt to lead God’s people to reconciliation with God and with each other. But it’s interesting to reflect on the earlier use of the word, when the threshold was not major change, but perceptibility. The liminal nature of Christmas works both ways: Christmas is not just the inbreaking of God’s kingdom on this earth, but this revolutionary act was noticed by almost no one.
Christmas nowadays is a global marketing phenomenon and, for some, a moment to connect with family and friends and our hopes for a better world. But that first Christmas, for us Christians, was a rare moment when the barrier between heaven and earth was broken, and in the Christ child, humans were able to witness the Divine inhabiting and transforming our mortal state. (Another such moment was Good Friday, on the other end of Christ’s journey on earth.) And who witnessed it? Mary and Joseph, the angels who appeared to a few shepherds, and the animals who shared their stall with the holy family. Despite our aspirations to spread the gospel to all the world, Christianity grew out of a small minority of people living in a small, occupied state, not as a conquering empire.
And this is good news, I think. God often chooses small entry points into world history, and of course Christmas is the most dramatic example. If God can become one of us through a poor couple, displaced by geopolitical forces beyond their control, God can surely work today through small voices, little churches, and perhaps even more people who are displaced by geopolitical forces beyond their control. We seem to be crawling out of the pandemic, but there is no major declaration that it is over. Instead, we take one tentative step at a time out of the darkness, still uncertain and with heightened awareness to the dangers of illness and climate change, racism and poverty, war and hatred.
And yet we do see light—and we have the opportunity to reflect the light that we receive. On Saturday, Shepherd of the Valley Presbyterian Church presented a Messiah Sing-a-Long, sharing the news of Christ’s birth through beautiful music. Yesterday, Westminster Presbyterian in Pasadena was the beautiful setting and host for Harlan Redmond’s ordination, a service that brought together people from over a dozen Christian church traditions and at least a couple of folks who themselves are preparing for ministry—a moment when new ministry was celebrated and inspired, and people from many backgrounds and perspectives could come together and rejoice in our shared love for Christ and for our brother Harlan. Tonight, Claremont Presbyterian hosts the third talk in their series on “Indigenous Peoples/Native Realities” which not only enlightens us settlers on the Indigenous experience, but also offers insights on relations with the Creation and each other that are new or have been forgotten. And we are thrilled to have offered the Immigrant Accompaniment Organizer position to a very well- qualified person—we are not yet able to announce the name, so you’ll have to hear the good news in the new year!
I see Christ’s light shining through this presbytery; sometimes I feel shy to admit it because the dominant narrative of the world is so negative. And certainly there is much we need to be wary of (get your boosters and your flu shot, and don’t be afraid to wear your masks!), and much need that we must respond to. But it occurs to me that we are now the small group of folks who are witnessing God’s inbreaking into today’s world, and it is our job to share the good news to this land of deep darkness.
We know there is darkness, but out of darkness comes new life. Out of the darkness of trial comes compassion and the strengthening of the human spirit. Out of the darkness of space comes the warm and life-giving light of the sun. Out of the darkness of night and Mary’s womb comes the baby Jesus. May we give thanks for the darkness and the light, knowing that in all circumstances, God is with us. May we give thanks for the darkness and the light, and for the companions who take us through it all. May we give thanks for the darkness and the light and point this world to the new life present in both.
Most of all, may our hearts be filled with the hope that comes with Christmas, and may we live into that hope—in our churches and families, in our work and our play. I look forward to seeing Christ’s light shine through you, throughout 2023 and beyond. Merry Christmas!
In Christ’s love,