The rub, though, is this. Society yanks us out of the darkness into the bright spots - not the light but the too bright, too shiny places. We are asked to put on a mask and join the party. Never is this truer than at Christmas. The lights, the music, the images, the signs in too large font screaming JOY at us it all seems to be yelling at us- WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU CHEER UP! DON’T YOU KNOW THIS IS THE MOST WONDERFUL, MERRY, CHEERY, JOYOUS TIME OF THE YEAR!”. When what we most want is to seek refuge in the darkness or at the very least a softer light. We hunger for quiet and peace, for rest. The darkness can give us comfort and strength.
In an article, I read by Lavern Cob, she says "Darkness holds so much potential to help us see beyond the immediate and the obvious.” It’s in darkness that we can begin to see a glimmer of light.
In the tradition of the ancient Celts, Nighttime, or the time of the moonlight, was seen as soft and gentle, associated with intuition, sensuality, the flow of emotion and natural rhythm. Both night and day were necessary for the harmony of creation. She goes on to say, Light and dark need each other. They play off of each other and balance one another. Light a candle and it casts a shadow. It is in the dark, that the candle shines most brightly.
Our Nativity set is very old, originally owned by the town and displayed in front of the town hall. It was given to the churches some time ago - and eventually made its home on our lawn. It is tired and broken in many spots, in need of refurbishment. Poor Malchior had split in two and was brought back to life this year by Scott Hamilton. At one point Scott and I looked into replacing the figure or even the set and what we found time and time again were the plastic light up versions that shine brightly, too brightly if you ask me.
I’ve heard the expression “the illusion of Facebook” this idea of presenting this shining snapshot that represents us, but in reality only highlights the bright shiny places. The darker places are kept hidden. This is what we do with the Nativity story. We isolate it, yank it from its darkness, plug it in and make shine brightly. But in reality the Nativity story is filled with darkness both literally and figuratively. Mary and Joseph had to be experiencing extreme stress - both uncertain of their future, Joseph’s shock of the news that Mary was with child - not his child. Then the stress of traveling to Bethlehem - very different than the vision we paint in our imagination. the cost of travel let alone the taxes - pregnant Mary traveling on a donkey. the Bethlehem was a city and crowded with other people there to register -No room at the inn - a dirty stable the only shelter. But then it was in darkness that this baby, symbol of light was born. It is said he was born in the night. Angels appeared to the shepherds in the night sky. And if it weren’t for the darkness of night - the North Star couldn’t have shone so brightly, bringing the wise men to Jesus.
As we approach this darkest of nights, I encourage you to embrace the darkness. Seek it’s refuge, allow it to give you strength and restore you, like the quiet darkness of a good night’s sleep. Allow it to comfort you. In our reading today, Isaiah 40, it is interesting to note that the English word comfort comes from a Latin word meaning “to strengthen”. For our faith ancestors, living in a foreign land, comfort meant being released – set free. It meant change and mobility.
It is in the darkness that we can come into the presence of God – where God can comfort, strengthen so that we can begin to feel the power of mobility to walk towards the light.