Darkness at Christmastime

by Rev. Ellie Barrington - December 23, 2012 A reflection on Luke 2:8-15 Listen to the audio recording

By church tradition, the four Sundays of Advent are named for Hope, Peace, Joy and Love. But perhaps your Advent Season has featured some other, less shining moods or moments? Perhaps you have felt depressed or lonely, saddened somehow by all the expectation around you? Maybe your household doesn’t feel very peaceful right now?

Perhaps, because of the perennial plight and poverty of our native people, your Advent outlook is the colour of bleak midwinter? A hunger strike? What could be a sadder sign for our nation at Christmastime?

If you are stressed or distressed, in spite of – or because of – the Christmas season, take heart: Jesus’ birth story parables in the Bible point to your reality too…and then beyond it.

Remember: It is the darkness in the Christmas stories that makes the Light of Christ shine so bright.

Did you hear how the shepherds were feeling? “They were terrified.” They needed considerable reassurance from their angel to risk taking their God-appointed journey to meet the babe who was their saving grace. Certainly in their time and place, the shepherds were the lowly of the low – landless, poor ones who lived with animals out in the hills, unwelcomed by the hearths of home in the villages. So wipe out your Christmas card images of camping out with soft white cuddly companions. Add the cold of a single cloak in the dark of desert night or worse – a place with no insulation but drink, in an overcrowded house in Attawapiskat.

Did you ever think that maybe the shepherds upped and followed the angel to Bethlehem, because they had nothing much to lose? That was the case for many of Jesus’ first century followers. Its still true for many around our world, who are drawn to Jesus because he stood up courageously with the poor, sharing his bread with the hungry.

Maybe we can count ourselves lucky at Christmas, if we do still have something to lose? Whatever our mood or circumstances, the birth stories about Jesus show us that shepherds and kings alike, were drawn on their journeys to see him.

Poor shepherds and wise kings are asking us still today: Will we set out from your comfortable home to visit a humble place where the Holy is being reborn in this world? Will we risk going to meet a poor one? Will we dare to go a distance to meet God – no matter what we may have to lose?

Some of you dared to go deliver a Festival of Sharing gift to a family in the Carlington community this week. You went to visit strangers who live just over the hill, but in socio-economic terms, so far away. Bravo! Some of our Church in Society activists will risk a journey to Victoria Island, to take food to the support camp for Chief Teresa Spence of Attawapiskat, still waiting, hungrily, to be heard by our Prime Minister.

“The First Christmas” by Borg and Crossan reminds us that “The stories of the first Christmas are not only filled with joy, but also with the theme of conflict…with the powerful of this world.” In Luke’s Magnificat poem, spoken by Mary, the theme of struggle is made plain. Shepherds and Kings take heed: “God has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud with the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away hungry.”

But this is not accomplished without risk and pain, as is also foretold to Mary in another Lukan poem: “This child is destined for the falling and rising of many and to be a sign that will be opposed, so the inner thoughts of many will be revealed – and a sword will pierce your own soul also.” In both of the birth narratives for Jesus, the shadow of the cross lies over the manger.

At the moment, it is our native Canadians who are hungry – for justice too long postponed. It is Teresa Spence, the hunger striker who is really hungry…now…but who will be truly spiritually starved in the long run, if her call is not heeded?

Remember: It is the darkness in the Christmas stories that makes the Light of Christ shine so bright.

In Matthew’s birth parable there is dark truth. “His story sounds the theme of fulfillment in Jesus, but the emotional overtone is ominous and foreboding. The story is driven by Herod’s plot to kill Jesus. It speaks of the murderous resistance of the rulers of this world to the coming of the Kingdom of God.”

Who is Herod today? Those who feel they have too much to lose? Too much to do to walk humbly towards changing the way things are – even for the sake of Christmas. But notice that some Kings – the wise ones – manage to make the journey, despite the risks and the distractions of a busy season.

When we put the Lukan and Matthean birth stories together, as we do tend to mix them up in our Christmas traditions, we get shepherds and kings grouped around the manger – giving both new meaning. Remember who was a lowly shepherd? A youngest forgotten son? King David, the shepherd boy who rose to lead Israel into their golden age of peace and prosperity.

Writing in a time when the prospects for the nascent Christian community were bleak indeed, the author of Luke wanted his readers to see Jesus as Israel’s new shepherd. So with his shepherds in the fields, keeping watch over their flocks by night, he evoked the memory of King David. The historic Hebrew hero who had banished the threat of annihilation and ushered in an era of justice and peace. David came from nothing – and became the best of kings.

Remember: It is the darkness in the Christmas stories that makes the Light of Christ shine so bright.

Know that in dismal times and in dark feelings, we may be closest to the coming Light.

You are not alone in your dark mood or moment, your difficult times, or these difficult times.

If you fear the feeling of not belonging wherever you land on Dec 24 or 25, you are not alone. If you dread the first Christmas without a beloved one who has died, you are not alone. If your kids won’t be with you on Christmas morning, you are not alone. If you are sick or in pain or fear that this is your last Christmas, you are not alone. If you are concerned about those who may drink too much and provoke family fights – or drive dangerously – or if you are one of those, you are not alone.

There are shepherds, and wise Kings as well, who are walking this journey too, walking with you. There are angels to show you the way to Christmas. Look up in your dark night and see the magnificent scope of life. See, there is a star there for you to follow. Others are looking for it, looking to it, with you. So do not be afraid. There is good news of the Holy in this night – a faint but growing Light!

Remember: It is the darkness in the Christmas stories that makes the Light of Christ shine so bright.

May it be so too, in your Christ-mas story and in Teresa’s.

Let’s sing it so…and act to make it so:

Joy in the world. Room for all and Alleluias. Amen.


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