It’s the third Sunday of Advent, and I am sitting in our living room, having put our twin boys to bed, enjoying the warm glow of Christmas lights. There are multi-coloured lights adorning our Christmas tree, and white lights are strung through the garland across the top of the piano and around the entryway to the room. The kids also put out a miniature Christmas tree which is decorated with lights. With all of the other lights off, these small, luminous bulbs create a peaceful atmosphere.
We don’t go all out when it comes to Christmas lights. In fact, this year we don’t have any outdoor lights up at all. I’d prefer to have at least some. But with everything else, that bit of decorating got left out. Some people, however, completely transfigure their entire yard, creating a radiant holiday landscape. No doubt NB Power is grateful. My family certainly is, and we often slow down to look when driving past.
A couple of years ago (2011) I remember really feeling like I needed some Christmas lights. I had the outdoor ones up early, before both the cold and the snow would make it a thoroughly unpleasant task. You see, the year prior it was just before Christmas that my Mom was diagnosed with small-cell lung cancer. Six months later, she left us for the presence of Jesus. But throughout the Christmas season of 2010 the lights were dimmed by her illness, by the impending sense of loss, and by all that accompanies the reality of such a diagnosis.
So the next year, I really needed to get up those Christmas lights.
Light is not just light. Light illumines. It shines. It dispels shadows. By it we can see other things. Particularly in our world, one often shrouded in darkness, we have to, as Bruce Cockburn reminds us, “kick at the darkness till it bleeds daylight.”
And light is especially important at Christmas. The biblical story of Christmas is familiar to many of us. There are shepherds, angels, astrologers from a far country, a paranoid king, a young Jewish girl, and, of course, a very special infant, Jesus. The gospels of Matthew and Luke, where the Christmas story is found, recount the story well.
There is more about Christmas found in John’s Gospel. No, there is no account of angels revealing God’s plan, no surprising or miraculous pregnancies, not even a manger or a star that mysteriously moves across the heavens. But there are words that describe the identity and nature of the child at the centre of all these narrative details. Actually, there is one word. And, as it happens, it is Word. The Word. A title for Jesus. After telling us about the divine nature of the Word, we are told that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.
More than this, this Word is also called light. Elsewhere in John Jesus calls himself the light of the world. And at the beginning of John’s Gospel we’re told that this light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.
The light shines in the darkness. Words of hope, words of consolation, words I needed to see embodied before my eyes a couple of years ago—and not only then but always. And Jesus—because of the fine-print of who he is—is the one who shines in the midst of our darkness, whether the darkness of grief, loneliness, anger, fear, or hatred.
Because it was never only about dozens or even hundreds of incandescent bulbs of light; rather, it was always about Jesus, the light that no darkness can ever overtake. And while I am not constantly conscience of it, that’s why I appreciate and even need Christmas lights.