‘The people who walked in darknesshave seen a great light;those who lived in a land of deep darkness—on them light has shined.’ (Isaiah 9:1)
Walking up the path to the church tonight may have been a little tricky, perhaps even a little troublesome. Walking on, one has to be careful to stick to the cobbled track among the darkness and not to stumble on uneven stones, whilst keeping an eye on the light shining brightly from the church door. Walking up the path to the church tonight we have retraced that journey which the shepherd took over two thousand years ago in the darkness outside Bethlehem, as they tried not to stumble along the uneven track whilst keeping an eye on the light shining brightly from the stable door.
On this holy night, as our town becomes Bethlehem, this house of God becomes the stable. The unsettling darkness around us, the tricky journey, the uneven track… all these elements become a living parable of human existence, a mirror of our life experience. All of us here are those who walked in darkness at some point or another. We are the ones whose journey through life is made unsteady by worries and doubts, sometimes struggling to find a way among the challenges and losses, sometimes feeling as if we were surrounded by darkness.
But on this holy night as we walk in through the church door we are also the people whom the prophet Isaiah mentions in our first reading. We are those on whom the light has shined, we are those who have seen a great light and this light is Jesus Christ, the child of Bethlehem. His bright presence shines within these holy walls and in the beauty our worship; and, although we may not hear the choirs of the angels around us as the shepherds did, here we come to celebrate his birth with the entire heavenly host.
The bright presence of Jesus shines in this place as it did in that lowly stable. Here and now, as in the stable then, God is with us. Jesus’ light pierces through our personal darkness – whatever this may be, and in this glorious light each of us is given new hope and joy for our tomorrow. As an early Christian writer said, ‘No one is kept from sharing in this happiness’ (St Leo the Great, On the Feast of the Nativity, I), because the birth of Jesus, our Emmanuel, God-with-us, reassures us that however lost, however lonely, and however deprived we may feel at times, God has shined his bright light on us to show us that he is always with each one of us, with those whom we love, and with those whom we no longer see.
‘The people who walked in darknesshave seen a great light;those who lived in a land of deep darkness—on them light has shined.’
May you bask in this light; may you enjoy in the light of Jesus Christ; may you share this light with others outside this place, on this night, this Christmas season, and all your days – this is my Christmas wish for you. Then no tricky path, no unsteady walk through life will ever trouble you, because from this holy night, God is with you.