At times it is hard to think that the world we live in is anything other than very dark, writes Bishop Gregor Duncan. All around us are threats to life – climate change, terrorism, civil wars, genocidal campaigns, corruption, failed and failing states, appalling abuse, not least of women and children – the list is endless, the litany of disaster and horror very, very long. Fear is rampant in our society, fear for the future, fear for our security, fear of the other, not least of refugees and migrants. It would not be too difficult to conclude that the darkness has indeed overcome any light there is or is well set to do so. The world seems very far away from heaven and from God’s light and love.
And then Christmas comes again to remind us that it is not so and that we lay our lives and our living on the trust that it is not so. Listen to the words of our eucharistic liturgy, first for Advent and then for Christmas: In Christ your Son the life of heaven and earth were joined …. He made his home among us that we might for ever dwell in you. If we are sincere in our worship and in our participation in the Liturgy we cannot really believe that the world is very far away from heaven and from God’s light and love. Why? Because the God of light and love chooses to dwell in it, to love it into glorious life from within, beginning with this infant whose birth we celebrate with great joy each and every year of our lives and going on with all his people right up to us and beyond us for as long as time endures.
It is, of course, easy to mock this belief as naïve – as great a writer as Thomas Hardy, in a poem called Christmas 1924 could say:
‘Peace upon earth!’ was said. We sing it,
And pay a million priests to bring it.
After two thousand years of mass
We’ve got as far as poison-gas.
And we’ve got rather beyond poison gas in 2015, nearly a hundred years on. But is this really the vision we want to lay our lives and our living upon, a vision of despair and utter bleakness? We’re not going to deny that there is truth in it, of course not, but we are going to affirm that the liturgy has the words of a greater truth, the light and love by which to live, the light to find God at work in the world and the love to join God there in the midst, in the flesh, helping God to love us and the world into glorious life for now and all eternity.
May I wish you all a wonderful celebration of the infant light of the world, a light the darkness can never extinguish, a light to live by however dark things seem, or as another part of our liturgy, Evening Prayer, has it: the only unfading light, glorious in all eternity.