“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.” (Isaiah 9:2)
People have been walking in darkness long before the prophet wrote these words over 2500 years ago; and people have been walking in darkness ever since. This year, the earth’s annual rhythm toward deepening darkness, which culminates with the solstice on December 22, seems to have spread beyond weather and cosmology to take up residence in politics, in the psyche – and in the crescendo of violence around the world. It is a darkness of fear and oppression and prejudice.
It is a paralyzing darkness.
But there is a great light. That is the promise – originally written by Isaiah, but remembered generations later in Matthew’s Gospel (4:16). Now it needs to be said that there are moments – or seasons, when it feels impossible to see anything but darkness in the world or in our own lives. Or if there is light, it may be only a flicker, one that can easily be snuffed out by the slightest zephyr of disappointment, loss or spasm of fear.
For us as Christians, the Incarnation is the great light. This Christmas we will sing of this light and celebrate the tradition of the light coming into the world – but after all the carols are sung and prayers are read the light may still be hard to see.
But the light is there – in the world, and in each one of us. In faith we dare to stand with our spiritual ancestors and claim that a biblical story which defies rational explanation is nevertheless a story of light and hope – a light that may begin as a faint glimmer but has the promise to grow into full glory. A light that literally can destroy the darkness and transform the world.
The story of Christmas emerges out of God’s love and gratitude for us. Jesus is the incarnation of that love and gratitude. Jesus is God’s gift to us. We are invited, no – we are expected, to pass on that gift.
Our culture presents love as an emotion. It is much more than that. Love is a commitment . Jesus demonstrated that commitment every moment of his earthly life – from the manger to the cross. Gratitude is often limited to the social expectation of saying “thank you.” It is much more than that. It is a spiritual practice – and as such requires our practice. Gratitude is a power that can disable fear and overcome prejudice. Gratitude kindles light. It is a spiritual weapon that can be used to combat the darkness.