‘And with this Word, God created all things. Nothing was made without the Word. Everything that was created received its life from him, and his life gave light to everyone. The light keeps shining in the dark, and darkness has never put it out (John 1:3–5 CEV).’
A star shining in the night sky is a favourite Christmas image. We use one on greeting cards and invitations, and it features in just about every nativity play. It comes from St Matthew’s account of the wise men who were guided to the baby Jesus by the light of a star (Matthew 2:1–11).
The star is a sign of the promised Saviour, but he comes into a darkened world. Matthew uncovers that darkness through the insecurity and fear of King Herod. Herod spies on the wise men because he is jealous of anyone he can’t control, even a little baby. He is furious when the wise men give him the slip, so he massacres all the children in vicinity of Bethlehem. (Matthew 2:16–18).
The image of a light shining in the darkness also features in St John’s gospel, although he doesn’t tell the Christmas story as such. Instead, in his prologue, John takes us back to the beginning for a ‘God’s eye’ perspective (John 1:1–14) when God created everything through the Word. ‘Everything that was created received its life from him’. Now the Word is coming to earth in human form: Jesus Christ the Son of God. He is the Light of the World (John 8:12).
This year, as we prepare once more for the Christmas festival, I know many of us are uncomfortable, even fearful, of changes we see within ourselves and in the world around us. Sometimes we feel they threaten the light of God, somehow getting in its way, reducing its ability to shine into our lives.
Change is affecting our personal and family situations, health and well-being, employment and social life, society and government, economics and security, environment and sustainability, and even faith and church life. Sometimes we have so many balls in the air at once that we can’t possibly catch them as they fall. Even Christmas can add to our level of anxiety, as we appreciate the joys but also need to cope with the excesses of the season.
In my role as bishop, and previously as parish pastor, many people tell me of their fears and anxieties. Sometimes they do so in sadness. Sometimes they are angry. Often they question something the LCA has said or done. Pastors in particular may have doctrinal or scriptural issues. Some people are not hearing the words they want to hear. Some say they no longer recognise the church to which they thought they belonged. Some say they recognise it only too well and that it’s long overdue for some serious change.
But at other times there are people who tell me they just want to praise God for the light he has brought into their lives. Those are the moments that energise any pastor or bishop, or indeed, any person of faith. Despite everything that would seem to confound us, even the darkness that lingers in our own hearts, the light continues to shine. Nothing can put it out. The gospel remains – God is for us.
So as we celebrate this Christmas let’s banish our fears and doubts. Let’s gather to witness the light that was coming into the world. Jesus will lift our eyes beyond our personal affairs and the troubles of the world to truly see him in his love and humility. We might sometimes think the light is under siege, but the darkness has never succeeded in putting it out, and it never will. God’s light will continue to shine and bring salvation to the world.
May the feet of God walk with you, and His hand hold you tight,
May the eye of God rest on you, and His ear hear your cry.
May the smile of God be for you, and His breath give you life.
May the Child of God grow in you, and His love bring you home.
Lutheran Church of Australia
Adelaide, South Australia
21 December 2017
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