The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light;
who lived in a land of deep darkness - on them, light has shined.
Words familiar to anyone who has regularly
attended Christmas worship. They come from the Prophet Isaiah, chapter 9, and for many, many years have been read during worship
either at Midnight Mass or on Christmas Day.
In our modern western world, we rarely walk in darkness - our homes
and streets are lit up with endless light sources. And this December, as every December, we will add to that light with our
strings of Christmas lights and decorations. People locally have been working hard to raise fund for new lights in Ashton
Village and by the time you read this they should be revealed in all their bright glory.
But in the midst of
all this light we still are people who in many ways walk in darkness - if not all the time, then some of the time. Recently
I have visited two long-standing members of St Martin's church to administer the last rites and to sit and wait and watch
and pray with them and a number of their families and friends. Illness and death can bring us close to the edge of darkness,
or even tip us into the dark chasm of grief and sadness. We might try to distract ourselves with the fripperies of life, but
the darkness of certain things can invade our hearts and minds. Serious illness and death are such things - and they can make
their presence felt even in the gaudy brightness of Christmas.
Often, we are ill-equipped to know what to think
and say and do in such situations. We try and distract ourselves from the important things that need saying but are hard to
say. Often, we are frightened of silence and fill it with inconsequential noise. Or we might be uncomfortable with stillness
and seek to run around manically, achieving little of true worth.
Recently, though, sitting with Fred and Brian
in the quiet stillness, waiting and watching, has been profoundly moving and affecting. To be present, wholly, to someone
else is powerful. And to watch for the light in the dark times of life is instructive if we can allow ourselves to do so.
The season of Advent invites us afresh each year to consider these things. To practice waiting and watching. To try
and block out the artificial brightness of a commercial Christmas and look for the true light which shines in the world. To
engage with the deep and painful things of life rather than avoid them. To recognise what hope is and what it means for us
and for the world to set our hope upon the Incarnate Christ.
God revealed himself in the flesh of Jesus Christ
to lead us to fullness of life. We sometimes confuse fullness of life with having an endlessly full diary and a vibrant social
life. Such things can contribute to the fullness of our lives in a spiritual sense, because everything is grist to
the grinding mill of holiness, as the writer Donald Nicholl once put it. But they can also become unbalanced and hollow if
that's all there is. We need stillness and silence; we need times to wrestle with the hard parts of life and living and
loving; we need darkness if we are to see the light.
In these bright shining days of Advent and Christmas, may
we be willing to turn off the lights and allow ourselves to wait in the darkness, looking for the light of Christ to inspire
us anew and bring us closer to the fullness of life he came for us to know. How moving and how powerful are the words of the
well-known Carol, O little Town of Bethlehem, about the new-born Christ in the small town of Bethlehem:
in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting light:
The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.
As we discover ourselves in the stillness and the dark, may be also discover Christ anew - and allow ourselves to
be gathered into his light of love.
With my prayers for a blessed Advent and a joyful Christmastide,