Dear People of God,
Each year at one of the liturgies for Christmas, we hear the prologue from the Gospel according to John. The evangelist’s description of the eternal Word, which is God and has been God from the first, coming into the world. Its familiar opening lines remind us that the event we celebrate today, the birth of the Lord, has its own beginning in the very beginning of all things:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. (John 1.1-5)
John the Baptist, with whom we have spent much time this Advent, spoke to the world about the light that was coming. The people who heard him clung to his promises of hope. They felt that their world was a dark place, where their futures were uncertain, and where nearly everything was beyond their control. Judea was a backwater province in the great Roman Empire and the Jews were a people subjugated under occupation. The true light of which John the Baptist spoke was a promise of peace, hope, joy, and love for all people. It would be the restoration of life as it was meant to be. It would be an event of great magnitude, like seeing a sunrise for the first time.
Of course, we know that when the great event occurred, hardly a soul noticed. God’s birth in human flesh was not a momentous occasion marked by great flashes of light or the fall of tyrants or any of the signs people might have expected. No, the birth of the Lord took place in a close, warm, fragrant space thought unfit for human dwelling. His mother and adoptive father the only people present to see. An ox and an ass looked on, perhaps also recognizing the one who made them and adoring in their own way. Later in the evening, shepherds arrive, having been summoned by angels. These people, invited especially by God, are illiterate young people, probably girls too young to bear children of their own, thought so little of by their community that their primary use is to sit outside of town with the sheep, through inclement weather and watching for predatory animals. A rude place, with only his family, surrounded by animals and some of the least important people of his society: This is the unexpected, humble circumstance into which God chose to be born, into which the true light chose to first show itself amid the darkness. And from there it shone more and more brightly.
This year, John’s telling of the Gospel and the announcements of John the Baptist seem especially poignant. This year has been one which for many, seemed one filled with uncertainty, concern, worry, and fear. A year where the future was difficult to discern. A year where the way we lived changed over and over and over again. A year where there are still people who live in subjugation. A year where darkness seemed closer around the edges than it had been in the past.
In spite of all of this, there is still hope. Amid all of the loss, the disappointment, the hurt, the loneliness, the darkness, there is still a light shining. It may be bright and clear, like a full moon reflecting on snow-covered ground. It may be less easy to see, like a lantern in a stable, held by a father beholding his new son. And, just as on the night of the birth of the Lord, it may be found in the most unexpected of places. But it is a light that shines always in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it.
It is the light that is our hope, our present, our future, and the promise of the eternal love of God for each and every one of us. The God who humbled God’s self to take on our humanity that we have a share in God’s divinity. The God whose glory shone brightest from the face of a tiny baby among frightened parents and simple beasts so long ago. The God who still abides with us in the eternal miracle of Christmas.
So the Word became flesh; he made his home among us, and we saw his glory, such glory as befits the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth. (John 1.14)
Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia! Glory to God in the highest and peace to God’s people on earth.
Wishing you an abundance of light, peace, hope, joy, love, and every blessing this Christmastide, I am yours in Christ,
The Rev. Andrew Rampton
Written for the Parish of Holy Trinity, Winnipeg.