A reflection for Christmas Eve
This is how the story begins: In darkness. In the darkness of what was – before anything was – into which a mysterious light shone. It shone into the deepest elements of the universe, which could not master the light, but which were instead split and carved up by it; divided and ordered into all the sparkling-edged dark beauty of creation by it. Lightening-struck they were, by the power of the light to bring into being life, and all that is.
This night, we recall that early darkness, and the light that formed and shaped it by its power. That darkness was before history began, and it remains in our imagination now, as a realm of creative possibility and potential: of the influence of God’s deep magic.
It was imagined to be so by Christina Rosetti, who in her poem Christmas Eve wrote that
Christmas hath a darkness
Brighter than the blazing noon.
That first darkness of creation is real to us again on this Christmas night, and its remembrance can be a comfort to us, whether we are able to be fulfilled and with family, or are facing a more complex and painful Christmas.
As we celebrate the birth of the Christ child, we also think of the coming of the all-creating light again, into another kind of darkness. The light was birthed as a human life at Christmas in order to dwell with us within another, second darkness – a darkness made so not by the light that first shaped the dark of virtuous creation, but by human barbarity acting within creation. The light entered deep into a world that was darkened not by its nature, but by the exploitation of all nature, which transformed humanity into people of misery and conflict.
The light abandoned the pure glory of its blazing power, in order to live among us here – to be alongside those caught in the conflicting double darknesses of creation’s beauty and our gloomy rejection of God’s gifts to us within it.
The writer of the Gospel of John perceived the darkness of human selfishness as a realm of danger, within which we could not clearly perceive the coming of the light at Christmas: within which, our senses unnaturally dimmed, we focussed on fear; we were confronted by the powers of confusion, and unbelief, and violence, and so struggled to see the greater power of God. Yet into this increasing darkening of what was once meant to be, the light – the Son of God – was born a human to show us the true, intended contours and deep colours of creation.
It was 2000 long years ago: in a dark, dark town, in a dark dark street, in a dark dark house, that he was birthed; where that weak infant pierced with a point of divine light both the mystery and the misery of the world. And his birth made the Word – which is the light – flesh, and he dwelt among us. And even in the depth of our own world’s second darkness, his light was eventually seen and received as a blazing glory: the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.
In our dark, dark towns, in our dark dark streets, in our dark dark houses, and down the dark dark stairs to the dark dark cellars of our souls, skeletons live – or half live. For there are many humans who are, still, trapped in a deep darkness, or are entangled by some last vestige of it, in a place where the light of God’s presence is half-visible or dimmed.
In these places, the darkness humanity mis-created still seems to remove, through exploitation or cruelty, our chance to live a real and full human life. This second darkness, far from being a realm of potential and of the imagination – a place consistent with God’s love in creation – strips humans down to the bone, so that we are not able to see clearly that we were once made to embody a beautiful reality, fully-fleshed.
We poor skeletal imitations of fully alive beings are often frightening to each other, and are frightened in ourselves, roaming a world that still lacks understanding of the complete fullness of life which God desires to show us. Without a full reality of human flourishing in the flesh, our ability to understand our place in creation or to reflect and resemble the creative light of God’s love is so limited.
And so the Word – which is the light – became the realest of all real human flesh, entering also into the fullness of our dark, dark lives. We who possess a skeletal sort of humanity can now see in him, a model in flesh of what we were created to be at the beginning of the story.
The Word became human flesh to reclothe us in a fuller humanity. And to bring us from fearing each other, and the dark too, because we had miscreated a macabre parody of God’s creation in our second darkness of sin.
The light has dawned, and is still redeeming us from that second darkness, so that we can perceive the virtuous dark of creation again.
The light shone through the dark dark night so that on this night, in particular, we might live a little more fully and freely in just that early darkness: able to see its possibilities; able to see what we were once and are called again to become: humans who live joyful and free, under the beauty of the night’s sky.
All this, from first creation to its restoration, from dark to darkness done by the light born at Christmas: the light of Christ.