This isn’t a sermon exactly, but as I’ve just prepared it for the December edition of Network News, a newsletter for Scottish Baptist lay preachers, I thought I’d give you all a preview…
As I drove home through the evening gloom last week I passed a house with a string of lights around its front door. They stood right out against the darkness – defying the wet November night, bright red and intensely cheerful. When I arrived home I discovered, by the wonders of Facebook, that some friends down south have gone a step further. The tree is up.
It’s a long-running joke that the shops don’t get set up for Christmas any earlier because the Easter eggs are in the way. In a sense, you can’t blame them: as a nation, we do most of our shopping in the run-up to Christmas. That’s got to cause a headache for any business that needs to turn a profit the other 364 days of the year too. If they want to spread things out a bit, well, you can’t really blame them.
But what about the more recent vogue for decorations going up in our homes, earlier and earlier in December and now, it seems, into November as well? Our friend down south isn’t the only one. Everyone who commented on her Facebook posting, bar one, indicated that they would have their decorations up shortly. So what’s going on?
It’s surely no accident that wherever Christianity has taken root in this world, the celebration of Christ’s birth has tended to supplant a former, pagan midwinter festival. Festivals that sought to persuade a capricious god to allow the sun to return, to ward off the ghosts that ruled the darkness, or to bring about lengthening days by an act of communal will, gave way to a celebration of the One who gave us the times and seasons as a means of understanding His will, His purpose and His unending blessings – the Light has shone in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.
Celebrating Christmas is not a defensive act, a warding off of darkness and gloom. It’s a positive celebration of the gift of the Eternal Light, the Son of God. But if we remove the Christ from Christmas, what’s left to celebrate? If we no longer rejoice that the Light has come into the world, all we’re left with is a cold, dark time of year and an altogether natural urge to fill that darkness with light of our own.
As Christians, this time of year presents us the best possible opportunity to reach out to people with a Gospel message they need to hear. Though they may not understand it or even acknowledge it, every string of lights on the front of every single house speaks of a heart longing for light to shine in the darkness. They may even sing along with carols without realising that they are expressing that longing – to take one example, “Yet in thy dark streets shineth / The everlasting Light. / The hopes and fears of all the years / Are met in thee tonight.”
As we reach out to our friends and neighbours this Christmas, let’s show them that their desire to chase away the darkness, and their hope for warmer, better days has been met by the Child who was born in Bethlehem.