The Promise of light.
At this time of year darkness seems to encroach on us all as the days shorten and dark clouds fill the skies. From my office which affords me the most wonderful view of Woolacombe beach, the lead grey of the sea means the horizon is indistinguishable from the sky. Somehow even the news seems darker with the suffering of not only the Ukrainian people, but awful accounts daily reported from Israel and Palestine.
The church calendar though, is something that acknowledges the rhythm of life within the church year and responds to the darkness and life’s struggles in its annual observances of remembrance and commemoration for those who died in the service of their nation in war and conflict. We also remember those who have died but remain dear and much loved in our All-Soul’s service. It was for me a huge privilege to be able to lead the Remembrance service at Mortehoe on Sunday 12th November surrounded by not only members of the armed forces, but also coastguards and firefighters who willingly give their time and commitment to the safety of others. In its message of sorrow and remembrance of suffering, we are also reminded that death was overcome in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who offers the hope of light, life and peace for all eternity, for those who accept his invitation to turn to him.
To help myself in these months of winter, I am often to be found walking our beautiful coast, even on wild days where seagulls are tossed above the cliffs in gusty wind and rain and the waves race to crash on the shore. Walking is very important to me but inevitably, sometimes I have to walk in the dark during these months. Walking in the dark means I have to make myself visible to vehicles on the road, which means I wear a fluorescent jacket and carry a torch. As I walk, near my home, I am able to see Lundy Island brooding in the distance with its lighthouses at each end, flashing in turn. As I look westward, I am also able to see the light on Hartland Point warning shipping of the perilous rocks which reach out into the sea, ready to snatch at an unsuspecting vessel passing by.
Light then is vital to ensure our safety in the dark, but it is so much more. Light is vital to our very existence. When a meteor hit the earth at the time of the dinosaurs, there is one theory that much of the extinction it caused was because light from the sun was blocked by particles which hung in the atmosphere for years. This caused photosynthesis to cease and meant that the food chain broke down. Life as it was then, was never the same again and I am sure I don’t need to tell anyone who grows plants that light is so important for propagation.
The previous Bishop of Crediton, Bishop Nick, described times during the second World War, when many people from Plymouth would leave the city to spend the night on Dartmoor during relentless bombing raids on the city and only venture home as light broke on the horizon. As light flooded the sky during the dawn, the bombers were no longer safe to discharge their deadly cargo.
Again, the church acknowledges the journey of our small planet through the solar system as it moves away from the sun on its orbit into the darkness of the universe and this time of year in the celebration of Christmas. Christmas is then the promise of light even in the darkest moments. Just as we pass the winter solstice, the beams of glory of the Christ child are proclaimed in the darkness of Palestinian fields where shepherds were keeping watch over their sheep. The heavenly host simply could not contain itself and the whole company of heaven spilt out to flood the countryside with divine light. The wise men felt compelled to wander far from home to search for this incredible child and pay him homage and yet again, the world would never be the same. For Christians, this light is the light of Jesus Christ, born as a baby to live among us and show us the way to God. As John writes in his Gospel (John 1:9), ‘The true light that gives light to every person was coming into the world.’ Jesus comes, into the darkness. Jesus meets us in the brokenness of the world and offers us the hope of God, even at the darkest hour.
I pray that this Christmas yours will be a celebration of love and joy and that you may greet the new year with renewed hope in the goodness and promise that ‘the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.’ (John 1:5)
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