It’s Christmas Eve. The candles are lit, Christmas music is playing, my sister is in the kitchen trying her hand at eggnog (“is it ACTUAL egg that you DRINK?!”). We are having a family meal tonight before heading to a midnight carol service…I just love this time of year. To be completely honest with you though, I have been celebrating Christmas since October…or maybe September: I had snowflakes on the kitchen window long before the leaves started to bake in the autumnal sunshine.
As you may have guessed, I am a big fan of Christmas. There is something so wonderfully warm and ‘sparkly’ about the season. My friends have given up hope of me holding off from celebrating Christmas before the month of December – I simply feel it is too good to limit it to a month (if you feel the same, please do get in touch: we are a disappearing group of enlightened human beings that need to stick together).
Yes, I love the waltz that sees candles, music and baking dance with presents, concerts, trees, holidays, roast dinners, shiny wrapping paper, long queues, hot chocolate, carol services in a beautiful seasonal ballroom.
Walk with me a little further tonight: as an activist, I try to give a voice to the voiceless – victims of human trafficking and of other kinds of exploitation; children who are exposed to things that rob them of their innocence. Their stories, names and faces haunt my mind in a bid to reconcile the thought that so much darkness can exist in a world made by and intended for Light. That I can sit typing on an expensive piece of technology in cinnamon-scented candlelight with a roof over my head when someone of the exact same worth – that is, of infinite worth as a hand-crafted work of the Ultimate Artist – is, tonight, locked in a confined space does not sit well with me. It isn’t right. It isn’t fair. I get to go to a workplace that I have chosen, to do work which I enjoy, when others are being made to carry out horrific acts against their will. I am free to make choices, to move, to speak, to love, when others’ freedom has been robbed. I choose what I eat and drink, others are drugged. I choose my physical boundaries, others are raped 30 times a day. I live in a nice house, others are encaged in cells. Tomorrow, when I am warmly wrapped up under a glistening tree with bow-tied boxes of things I don’t need with family I take for granted eating food we have too much of, others will be hoping they are spared a beating or given a cup of water. That doesn’t make sense.
It doesn’t make sense not only because there is such a contrast between one way of life and another, it doesn’t make sense because there is such contrast between this reality and the way the world was intended to be. God made a world that was “good”, where peace and freedom and friendship and love ran freely, the population of which he made and knew and loved. These creatures turned against their Maker and chose their own paths which brought destruction and darkness into the world which had been made so perfectly. The new cracks in the broken clay manifested themselves as sickness, death, pain, hardship, poverty, persecution, power struggles, war… darkness, in one word. What is found at the heart of this thickest darkness is sin, but this is where we get excited: the true meaning of Christmas comes in. “The true meaning of Christmas” – sounds so cliché, doesn’t it? And yet…it is the most exciting and hope-breathing gift we have been given. Darkness is only pierced with light, the true Light who entered our world to save us. This is why we celebrate the coming of our Saviour King. Christmas celebrates the Genesis of the earthly life of the sinless Saviour who became sin to set the captives free.
Oh, such wonderful truth that has saved us from the darkness and brought us into light. And yet, oh, how often we forget about this tremendous gift when we snuggle up under the warm, comfortable blankets of consumerism, ignorance or materialism, who perhaps we find most prominently around Christmastime. We who live in fairly peaceful areas, without much persecution, with more money than others, those of us with roofs over our heads who are free to worship, free to work…we forget. We are blind. The wonderful things we enjoy about Christmas are threads in a blindfold we often find ourselves wearing.
It is important, then, to recognise that there is such a strong current that runs in the hustle and bustle of Christmastime willing its catch to be kept from delighting in the wondrous Light of the world. He is the only one who will bring us peace, joy, hope and love. The blindfold keeps us from seeing Him, and when we allow our eyes to miss Him, we also allow our eyes to miss the need for Him in our world.
The people who suffer in the world are not only those enslaved. The persecuted church faces daily the threat of death and loss, others live in fear of the same things in war-torn lands, others still under the palm of illness, of unemployment, of relationship breakdown. Loneliness, sadness, emptiness. You can add here the darkness you know in your own life or in the lives of those close to you. The darkness cannot overcome the Light, but it is still here and it is good to acknowledge its presence.
In fact, we should, as a global Church, do more to remember these fellow members of the human race to whom God wants us to reach out and bring light. Whilst candles, carols and cookies are not in and of themselves bad things, they are not what matters. We who have received the gift of light have a gift to share. Maybe this means that we need to support more organisations who work to bring light into darkness. Maybe we need to get our hands dirty ourselves in this work, going abroad or stepping out of our front doors. Maybe we need to give up certain things that we know blind us. Maybe we need to commit to praying more for situations of darkness.
But just as the truth of Christmas reminds us of the Light and shows us the darkness, the truth of Christmas brings us hope when we face it.
May we never become overwhelmed by the darkness. Our hearts are justly broken for the things that break God’s, but we must cling to the hope that Christmas brings: Jesus became man. He walked in our shoes. He understands our tears in the darkness. And yet, the further promise of Christmas: the battle is not over, but the battle is won. We are redeemed. The Light has prevailed. God incarnate came to save the world and to shine His Light into the darkness. May this magnificent truth shape our celebrations this Christmas.
Above everything else, what I love most about Christmas? The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. John 1:5, ESV.