John 1: 1-14
I don’t know about you but I love Christmas lights. My house is covered, inside and out, with as many lights as I can. There are 2 sets of lights on my main Christmas tree and on each of my three smaller trees. There are various lights and lit decorations in the windows. Lights on the outside walls, porch roof, and hanging from the guttering. There are figurines and decorations around the house that also light up, as well as many candles. I have a very understanding husband! I used to love taking my grandchildren out in the car and drive the streets looking at all the different light displays. They are now too old for all that, but I still enjoy looking at them as I drive around. And when I see houses and business premises all lit up with lights and decorations it lifts my heart and makes me smile.
But why do we use Christmas lights, where did this tradition come from? For some people it may simply be that is what you do at this seasonal time of year. It is what the family has always done. Part of that is true for me too. My mum always put up the decorations on the last weekend of November in readiness for my birthday at the beginning of December. So I now do the same. But the actual custom of putting up Christmas lights goes back to when Christmas trees were decorated with candles, which symbolized Christ being the light of the world. It started in modern Germany a few centuries back when Christians brought candles into their homes. The tradition spread and today the candles are replaced by electric lights and decorate much more than just the tree. The Church is no different as you can see with a mixture of electric lights and candle light. And of course most churches have always used candles as a symbol of the light of Jesus.
Our Gospel reading today talks of Jesus as the light of the World. It can be quite a difficult reading for us to understand. And believe me, it is quite a difficult reading to read! It is more like a string of statements about who Jesus is. It starts by saying that God’s Word is eternal – and Jesus is the Word of God who was born in human form to share our human life and show us God’s love. And Jesus the Word was there at the beginning of creation, He is with us here now, and will be for eternity. He always was, always is and always will be.
God has always loved us, always does, and always will – despite the fact that we get it wrong sometimes, and forget He is there sometimes. We see Jesus as the light in our dark world. There are things happening in our world that are not good. Some things are annoying – the postal strikes have played havoc with our tradition of sending and receiving Christmas cards for example. Other things happening in our world are seriously awful. There are wars – the war in the Ukraine has of course taken the headlines this year. But there are still wars raging in other countries. There is terrorism, there is persecution and oppression. People still go hungry and without water. People are still homeless – living on the streets or in makeshift tents in makeshift camps as refugees. People still risk their lives to travel across the English Channel in search of a safer, better life. It is sad to say that in 2022 there are still homeless, hungry and poverty stricken people in the UK, including here in Basildon.
But God is still at work. Jesus’ work is still being done. The love of God and the light of Jesus still shines in the darkness. How? Because people are in the majority of cases, naturally good, loving people. God made us in His image so His love and the light of Jesus works through us. We may not solve all the problems of the World but we can show our love for those less fortunate. We can and do donate to food banks, hospitals, care homes, night shelters and refugees. We can and do support many charities: those that care for people and those who care for animals. We can visit the sick and the lonely. And we can pray.
So when Christmas is over and all the pretty lights come down………When we unplug them, take them off the tree, off of our houses, out of our windows (or wherever else we’ve placed them), and we pack them up. They might only remind us for a little while. We can enjoy all the pretty lights for a season. Then they go back into storage. Even here this morning, after we have sung our final song, said our goodbyes and “merry Christmas”, the candles will be extinguished and the lights turned off. I’m sure we’ll relish the feeling and remember the beauty of Midnight Mass, the crib scene, the service this morning…..but the light will still be out. So I want to say one thing this morning—don’t let your light go out! Just because the candles are extinguished, and the festive lights go back into storage, it doesn’t mean the light stops shining. The light shines, Jesus lives, because, as John says in the Gospel passage, the darkness can never extinguish it. Jesus told His disciples that they were the light of the world. Jesus is the true light from heaven – but as today’s disciples we are witnesses of His Light. And, we are, aren’t we? Isn’t that why we are here? Are we simply here because we want to feel good about ourselves? Are we here because we simply think, “It’s Christmas and I love a Christmas service”.
Well no, I don’t think so. We’re here because we have witnessed the Light, however dimly that may be for some of us. That light has brought us all here whether we realise it or not. And the worst thing in the world that can happen is for us to walk out of this place and not carry the Light of Jesus into a dark, hurting world. How do we do that? How do we keep the candles burning or the Christmas lights glowing when we physically put them out? I’ll suggest what this means to me. We keep the light shining by telling people what we have witnessed. What we have seen. What Jesus means to us. What we believe. Talking about our faith is not always easy or comfortable for everyone. We can talk about our favourite film, or song, or restaurant – but not our faith. Some of us may talk about it in depth. For others I suggest the message you tell people is simple. I believe in God the Father who loves me, Jesus the son who died for me and the Holy Spirit who strengthens me. And of course we can witness in our actions – what we do, not just for ourselves but for the good and wellbeing of others.
We celebrate at Christmas what happened over 2000 years ago. Light entered the darkness through a baby in a manger. God came into a world ruled by a pagan empire, the Roman empire. A world of unfair taxes, oppressed masses and religious phoniness. Sometimes it seems not much has changed. But, God did it out of love to overcome the darkness—to bring light, and to make sons and daughters of light. If we now carry the light of the world, then we can’t be hid. In the midst of darkness and evil, we are to shine! Shine forth peace, shine forth love, shine forth hope, shine forth joy. That’s who we are because that’s who Jesus is. That’s what all these pretty lights and candles remind us. Don’t let the lights go out! Have a good, light filled and blessed Christmas. Amen