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The people who walk in darkness have seen a great light. (Isaiah 9:2)
We have all experienced darkness.
We have all failed to see.
We have all hidden in the shadows.
We have all reached for the comfort of the night.
And some have experienced all these things with severe intensity.
Some have been so overwhelmed by darkness that even a pin prick of light, seen with open eyes, can be profoundly life changing.
Some have been to the very bottom of the darkest pit. Where death seems all too close, and tragically for some, has even felt appealing.
The fact of the matter is, in our communities there are people that feel just like this, right now. And yet, at Christmas, the world talks of light as if every festivity, every meal time, every shopping trip and every candle lit can make everything better, everything lighter. They don’t. For those who suffer with depression, low-self esteem, or stress; for those who continue to mourn the loss of loved ones; for those whose families are divided, or even harming, Christmas comes like the darkness. In fact for many of us, even if we do not share these same challenges, Christmas can feel heavy not light.
I was sat in the barbers on Friday waiting to have my haircut. A young man was in the chair ahead of me, he was talking to the barber about Christmas. This young man, probably about 22 years old was expressing his severe dislike of Christmas. “It is stressful.” He said. “I don’t have the money. There is too much expectation and not enough time.” He even went on to say, “It is the one time of the year where I feel the most hurt.”
Christmas comes like the darkness.
How can we take the words of Isaiah (Isaiah 9:2-7) seriously? Especially when he says, ‘the people who walk in darkness have seen a great light.’ What light? The latest John Lewis advert? The Black Friday glitzy adverts? The lights of late-night shopping? What light?
The message from Isaiah is clear. For those that sit in darkness, or fear, or failure, or want: rescue is coming!
For Christians this news of rescue comes in the shape and form of a child. This is the single reason the church is gathered on Christmas Eve: “a child has been born for us, a son given to us.”
For this child is the gift. This child is our light, our rescue, and our good news. When the church is at its best, and it is offering what it is called to offer, it takes its role as the stable and manger, cradling the child in its embrace with the world, in the embrace of our aching human hearts.
After all, it is for this light, this child given to us, that our painters have painted, our musicians composed, our architects designed, our martyrs died, our healers healed, our activists agitated, and our preachers preached. [Nancy Taylor, Feasting on the Word, Year C, 2006]
More good works have been inspired by this child than any other. And yet more and more feel the pressures of Christmas and what it has become. So what can we say?
"It’s always darkest before the dawn.”
This is as true for us, as it was for Isaiah. Think of the darkness of the womb before new life meets the world. Think of the darkness of the tomb before that first Easter morn. Think of the darkness of the early morning shadows before the sun rises. Think of the darkness of the blind man’s gaze before the miraculous deeds of Jesus returned his sight. Think of the darkness you have witnessed yourself, before hope replaced it with light. At Christmas we must always remember that the light has come, and the light is coming.
And so rather than ask where the light is? Why not ask who the light is?
Ironically, in a season that is so filled with light, - Christmas trees, festive street lights, fireworks, candlelit Christmas dinner tables and the like, it can still end up feeling as though Christmas comes like the darkness. It can be a very difficult time for many many people. But when we ask the question – 'who is the real light?' then we can look beyond the many lights of the season, and see the one true light, the light that has come to enlighten everyone.
Jesus is indeed the light of the world. It is only his word and his message that can suppress the darkness from our lives. You can have as many Christmas lights, shopping days and inspirational adverts as you like, but unless we seek the one who is the true light, then Christmas will always be less than what it was meant to be.
And the third, and last thing is to say that it is only through Him, Jesus, that we can overcome the darkness in our lives. In the symbolic battle between light and darkness, of which the bible refers to frequently, the moment we think we can manage with our own light and strength, is the moment we are in danger of losing the fight. In my experience, and from what I have witnessed in the lives of others, those that have sought the light of God, and who have welcomed the Christ child into their lives, have also admitted in the same breath that they cannot do it alone. It is that same moment that light truly comes, and they receive the power to overcome darkness. Once we come to believe that a light greater than ourselves can restore us and rescue us, then we do indeed walk in the light of Christ.
For the people who walk in darkness have seen a great light.
If you know someone who is really struggling this Christmas, who might also be suffering with depression or anxiety, or a deep sense of loss then please make sure you encourage them to talk to someone about it. Create some space for them, in the midst of the busyness of Christmas, so they have permission, to feel and to be heard. For those who need more urgent support, go with them to see there GP, help them pick up the phone to the Samaritans 116 123, or phone a bereavement support line like Cruse Bereavement Support Helpline 0808 808 1677 . For when we receive the light of Christ in our lives, we can share that same light with others.
Revd Jeremy Putnam
You may not know that the very first Black Friday was Nov 18th 1910, and it had nothing to do with shopping. On this day 300 women marched to the Houses of Parliament as part of their campaign to secure voting rights for women. The day earned its name from the violence meted out to protesters, some of it sexual, by the Metropolitan Police and male bystanders. Thanks to the courageous perseverance of these suffragette women, and even earlier the commitment of Chartism for the working class, there is now equality in voting. We still have a way to go though, inequality is still very present in our society.
You may be wondering why I am talking about Black Friday when the rest of the Church is probably talking about Advent & Christmas. Inequality was certainly very real at the time of Jesus’ birth. Consider Mary the mother of Jesus. Mary had no status, or societal influence. Her wealth was next to nothing, and she had no real material value that would’ve caused people to stand up and take notice. And yet because of this, God chooses Mary. In the eyes of the world she had nothing to give and yet Gabriel was sent to her with some extraordinary news. Mary was a young girl in a society that valued men and maturity; she was lowly and poor as her canticle of praise mentions. In other words, Mary was not someone who was favoured in the world, but Christians learn from the Gospels that she was indeed honoured in the eyes of God, she was in fact blessed because of her poverty.
It’s important to know that Mary’s status before God would have undoubtedly brought her shame. In her day, an unmarried woman expecting a child was cause for disgrace. It broke every social and familial law of acceptability. Not only would her condition bring shame on the family, but to try and explain it was somehow a blessing from God, that conception was by account of a visit from God’s messenger, well, this would have been blasphemy of the highest order. Nevertheless, she trusts God. Mary’s part in the Good News and the Incarnation is so inspiring, so extraordinary, and so liberating for us because of her faith.
Mary was the first champion of the Christian faith, showing such courage despite facing the possibility of social darkness, disgrace, shame and violence. Because of her faith the Word of God came into the world. To the world around her Mary had nothing to give. To us, as Christians, we learn that Mary had everything to give, and held nothing back. Her faith inspires us today.
And so, this Christmas I hope like Mary, you know the grace to trust God completely. There are many challenges still facing our society with regards to freedom and equality, and we do need boldness and faith to survive them and to challenge them. But my prayer this Advent and Christmas time is that we learn how loved we are by God through the inspiring faith and motherhood of Mary, and together make the changes God longs to see.
May God bless you and keep you this Christmastide.
Revd Jeremy Putnam.
A collection of thoughts and reflections from the people of All Saints.