The Light in the Darkness
I was in Paris recently, my fourth visit in total and my first in winter. It was merely a stop en route to visiting family, but Lucy, Ethan and I were really looking forward to it. We were going to visit some of the Christmas Markets and see the Eiffel
Tower all lit up, the perfect way to kill a few hours between trains. And yet it was a stressful journey, most of all because of security concerns. Many months before, when the tickets had only just been booked, a relative had warned us against going, feeling
sure that there would be a terrorist attack. Sadly Paris has had more than its fair share recently, and this, combined with the warning’s fervour, gave us real pause for thought.
We decided to stick to our plans, because to avoid Paris would have been to make the family Christmas impossible for us, and we refuse to live our lives ruled by the fear of what might happen. Life by faith, not by fear, is my constant aspiration. Yet
my faith faltered when, days before we were due to travel, news came of a terrorist attack on a Christmas Market in Berlin. Different country, similar venue. Now we really were nervous, but we decided to go, trusting God but planning for the worst.
The security was depressing and reassuring at the same time. There was the French army, patrolling the major monuments with assault rifles and the Gare du Nord was thick with armed police. I didn’t rest easy until we were a long way south of Paris, but
we did come through safely without even a hint of danger, praise God. His grace brought us safely home again. We did explore the markets, we did get to see the Eiffel Tower all lit up. And that’s when it struck me.
A light shining in the darkness. An illuminated metal shard, glimmering with Christmas lights and beaming a bright light across the dusky sky. Impressive by day, the Eiffel Tower is quite magical by night. So much darkness surrounded the light, but that
only served to make the light stand out more. The darker it got, the more glorious the light appeared. That was true both for the tableau before our eyes and for the spiritual world around us.
An attack on this market would have been tragic and an attack on the monument would have been devastating, because they represent hope, light and warmth in an otherwise dark season. That much you don’t even have to be a Christian to agree with, but these
artificial lights are only symbolic of the true light, the light of life that defines Christmas and gives this season its reason. They pale into insignificance beside the light of Christ.
Some Bible verses are so familiar that they lose their impact. Some are so often heard in nativities or elsewhere that they become a bit twee, more fairytale than gospel. I revere the narrative Scriptures as much as any, but it was to the Gospel of John
that I turned this Christmas. That sight of the shining tower in the black sky took me to chapter one, verse five:
“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
That verse, those words, that sight, have stayed with me all Christmas. So too the alternative penultimate word in some translations: “and the darkness has not understood it.” There is so much darkness in this world, but it neither understands the light
nor overcomes it. Not “shone” or “did shine” or “used to shine”, nor even “might shine”. No, the light shines, it’s still shining and it will go on shining till the darkness is dispelled forever. It’s a point of a fact. It’s a promise.
Many wonderful things are said at the beginning of John’s gospel that contextualise the Christmas story in all its timeless cosmic glory, but these words give me most comfort. For all my personal growth and enjoyment, 2016 writ large was a dark year, with
troubling political, economic and social developments. 2017 could very well be darker still. Ugly things lurk on the horizon and global problems of daunting magnitude. Think climate change, terrorism, the rise of the alt-right, pollution, over-population,
rampant social injustice and systemic economic frailties.
These things make the light seem frail, like a flickering candle about to be extinguished, but this candle will never go out. The gates of hell shall not prevail against Jesus and His Church (Matthew
16:18). His light will one day be such that it does the sun out of a job, becoming the only radiance that the promised future world will ever need (Revelation 22:5). His light shines, and where it shines no darkness is. Wherever
we take the gospel and the love of Christ, we expel darkness. We are all candle-bearers, responsible not for tackling all the darkness but just those patches around us. If we remain still and hold our ground then that little absence of darkness is good, but
better yet is when we take ground in small acts of faith, love, kindness, generosity and even defiance. Let us refuse to be dismayed by the darkness we see around us, let us refuse to live and decide based on fear. Let us hold fast to this light and start
the year as we mean to go on, by spreading it as far as we can.
The light shines in the darkness.